MENDENHALL — About 125 people attended Simpson County Development Foundation’s 22nd annual membership meeting and luncheon at the South Fork Fish House in Magee, where keynote speaker Ed McCallum of McCallum Sweeney Consulting Inc., a global site selection consulting firm in Greenville, S.C., talked about changes in the economic landscape and community response requirements.
“I usually give somewhat canned speeches, but I had just attended an Industrial Development Research Council (IDRC) meeting with several industry leaders, CEOs, CFOs, even a few governors, and I wanted to share what I learned there with the business leaders of Simpson County because that’s truly indicative of what’s going on in the site selection industry,” said McCallum, who has been responsible for conducting site location analysis for some of the largest companies in the world, including Caterpillar, Taiwan, SemiConductor, Volkswagen, Daimler Chrysler, Corning, Borg-Warner, Shell Chemical and Proctor & Gamble.
“The three most interesting pieces of information I learned (at IDRC) were that the economy is changing in ways that we don’t even realize, particularly the cost structure,” he said. “Technology is, of course, creating jobs, but it’s also getting rid of jobs. Take American Airlines, for example. The company did a cost study of issuing a ticket by counter ($12) versus issuing a ticket online (about 12 cents), so they began encouraging online transactions. The banking industry did a similar study and found that a teller transaction costs about $1.24, and only 9 cents if done electronically. Companies are going to do business in the most efficient, effective and cheapest manner. In preparation for that, we need to educate our children about these changes made by technology.”
Also, recruiting businesses requires everyone to take personal responsibility, McCallum said.
“We don’t think we send messages necessarily, but we send them every day by fostering a libelous society, and it starts at the grass roots level,” he said.
Nissan hired McCallum’s partner, Mark Sweeney, to find a new plant location in the South, which resulted in the $930-million plant under construction in Madison County. So far, SCDF has been the only economic development association in Mississippi to hire the firm, said Tim Coursey, SCDF executive director.
“It just made sense to us to go to the source,” Coursey said. “We needed an aggressive marketing plan in place to take advantage of the opportunity that the Nissan venture has made possible. Since Ed’s partner was directly involved in that, we thought they would be able to clearly identify things we needed to do to prepare to specifically recruit automobile suppliers, who have to sometimes move a lot quicker than average manufacturing enterprises. Many times, it’s iffy whether they want to buy or lease until the last minute, so Ed has enabled us to develop a marketing plan that incorporates a strong Nissan component, and most importantly, a marketing plan that is doable. It’s not long term, pie-in-the-sky stuff. It’s very succinct and specific.”
As part of the plan to offer companies a menu of different choices, SCDF’s new industrial park site acquisition and development effort includes a 109-acre parcel located near Mendenhall, between Highway 43 and Highway 13, and other property located closer to the metro Jackson that is currently under option with final closure pending. Existing sites, which include two vacant, relatively new buildings on U.S. 49 in Magee, averaging 50,000 square feet each, are under development to increase the county’s marketability, Coursey said.
“It’s tough. I don’t like to say we’re competing against our county neighbors, because we’re all in this together, and we help each other out, but first shot, we’re always competing against each other — like metro Jackson and Rankin County — and it’s hard,” Coursey said. “We don’t have the amenities and facilities that they have.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Simpson County was one of the fastest-growing counties in the state, with a population increase from 23,953 to 27,639 between 1990 and 2000. The county has a 4% unemployment rate, ranking it the 17th lowest in the state.
“In recent years, Simpson County has become home to some really outstanding companies,” said Odean Busby, SCDF president, CEO and chairman of Citizens State Bank in Magee. “It didn’t happen by accident. It happened because these companies saw opportunities in a community that wanted them here. With available property, an infrastructure of essential services, a trained and willing workforce, great location and a local attitude of being able to ‘get it done,’ our brightest period of economic development is just beginning.”
Busby was quick to point out that SCDF would “never lose sight of the fact that the success of any county’s economic development efforts comes first and foremost from existing business and industry.”
“We have been blessed…with very progressive and forward-thinking companies that want to see our county grow and prosper,” he said.
Stacy Broadhead, vice president of Broadhead Lumber Co. & Manufacturing in Mendenhall, said the SCDF “knows what our agenda is. They tell us what’s available to fit it.
“Because we’re so busy running a very hands-on operation, there’s no way we can know about everything that’s going on in the small business arena,” he said. “As a small business owner, you’re pretty much in your own little capsule. They’ve been able to tell us about grant money here, bond money there, the latest trends in financing and other information we need to know to keep growing.”
Joe McNulty, owner of Magee-based Pioneer Health Services, a small business that manages small and rural hospitals in Mississippi, will take over as SCDF president July 1. McNulty was foundation president in 1995, when Quality Foods made the surprise announcement to locate a plant in Simpson County.
“That was a time when Magnetek was slowing down, and we were scanning the horizon for new companies to come to our community,” he said. “We got word that Quality Foods was looking in this area. Three of us met with the Don Kirkpatrick, Quality Food’s founder and president, and he told us they had already decided on Rankin County. We listened to him for about 30 minutes, and we went ahead with our presentation anyway. He agreed to come and see us, and he liked what Simpson County had to offer. That was a catalyst to more economic development in our community.”
Through the Foundation’s Existing Industry Program, SCDF has assisted RealPure Beverage Group, Howard Industries and Quality Foods with financial resource and incentive packages. Soon, Howard Industries will double its capacity, with assistance from Simpson County’s $680,000 Community Development Block Grant for plant improvements. Quality Foods recently invested an additional $2 million to build a 22,000-square-foot freezer expansion. RealPure Beverage recently completed a $2-million, 52,000-square-foot expansion. Polk’s Meat Products celebrated its first anniversary on May 8.
“Simpson County is in the best financial condition I have seen,” said Donnie Caughman, county administrator and chancery clerk.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.