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Picayune, Pearl River developing plan for rapid growth

PICAYUNE — Pearl River County, one of the top 10 fastest-growing counties in the state, continues to see rapid residential growth as retirees and commuters are attracted from south Louisiana, the Coast, Bogalusa and the Pine Belt area.

Rapid growth brings challenges, and currently the county is involved in developing a new strategic plan to make the most of the current opportunities.

“Efforts are underway to expand and coordinate programs countywide and increase cooperation between Picayune and Poplarville, the major population centers,” said Steven D. Surles Jr., executive director, Pearl River County Development Association. “The county is going through a strategic planning process that will be finalized in late October or early November. It is critical because we’re growing so fast, yet we have no target of where we want Pearl River County to be in five to 10 years. This is going to set up a roadmap on what the citizens view is of what they want the county to be five to 10 years from now.”

Public workshops and meetings have been continuing since January for the planning efforts being facilitated by Ken Hubbell & Associates, Little Rock, Ark. Surles said the plan will give elected officials, and representatives from the chambers of commerce and the economic development organization specific goals to shape Pearl River County into what the citizens want. The plan is being funded through the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation.

The residential growth is coming partly from retirees. But more commonly the new residents are commuters who work at Stennis Space Center, New Orleans or on the Coast.

“Our residential growth is exploding,” Surles said. “We’re close enough to metropolitan areas where people have their jobs, but they like the country setting of Pearl River County. We have a lot of people who work outside of the county and choose to drive a long distance to come and live here. They are buying five to 10 acres of land in the country, almost mini-farms. The main thing we are selling is a laid back environment where you can have small piece of land and yet we are still close enough to everything.”

Stennis Space Center is considered the biggest draw for Picayune as large numbers of workers at Stennis choose to live in the Picayune area.

Harold Holmes, director of planning and development for Pearl River County, said in 2000 the county issued 287 permits for houses and 336 permits for mobile homes. Those figures don’t include building permits within the city limits of Picayune and Poplarville. The permit totals for unincorporated areas of the county were down slightly from 1999’s total of 332 houses and 432 mobile homes.

“But it has been steadily increasing in the county over the past few years,” Holmes said. “This year is staying approximately the same as last year.”

The building activity can be found all over the county, but is mainly concentrated from north of Picayune towards Poplarville. The average new home construction price is about $95,000, with the range running between $70,000 and $500,000.

Besides fleeing crime and congestion, Holmes said new residents often say they were attracted by the rolling hills of Pearl River County. The county is taking steps to retain the rural charm of the county as it grows.

“It is continually hard to handle the growth,” Holmes said. “We have tried different innovative ideas to handle the growth.”

As the population of Pearl River County has grown, so have retail sales. The county’s sales for general merchandise and clothing have grown from about $16 million in 1980 to $85 million in 2000. The county draws about 57,000 shoppers in that category compared to 26,000 shoppers in 1980.

More retailers and industries looking for factory sites could be attracted to the county with data gleaned from a geographic information system (GIS) digital mapping system is being developed to provide better information to the public and developers.

Surles said the countywide GIS, which will include flood plain maps and information on utilities, roadways and other infrastructure, will aid in economic development. There are plans to make the information available on the Internet.

“That is going to be a great asset to economic development in the county,” Surles said. “Developers interested in Pearl River County can go search and find information on parcels of land. We can market that to anyone in the world who is looking for a development site.”

Currently one of Picayune’s top manufacturers, Heritage Plastics, has done an expansion to add another rail spur to keep up with shipping of their products. The company produces the raw materials used to manufacture plastics products.

The city’s largest manufacturer is Valspar Refinishing, a subsidiary of Valspar Corp., a Fortune 500 company, which produces automotive paints. The company employs about 110 people in Picayune.

For more information about Pearl River County, see the Web site www.pearlrivercounty.net or www.prcdevelopment.org.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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