Pike County, like most other rural counties, has seen the latter part of the 20th century become a struggle to change its local economy from the old economy to the new economy.
Like many other Mississippi counties, Pike County has a long history of agriculture as the predominant factor in determining the economic condition of the community. As an area heavily dependent upon poultry and timber this continues to be the case, yet Pike County has made great strides to develop itself into a model of the new 21st century economy.
Pike County experienced tremendous growth over the past decade. During the decade of the 1990s Pike County saw a 25.3% growth in overall employment from 1990 to 2000. This made Pike County one of the top 10 fastest growing counties based on job growth from 1990 to 2000. This reflects an overall trend over the last quarter century. In 1975 the overall civilian labor force was approximately 13,000 people. By 2000 the civilian labor force for Pike County had increased to over 18,000 people, while the total population grew from 32,000 to 38,200 in 2000.
The majority of these new jobs were created in the manufacturing sector. This sector of the Pike County economy grew at an even faster rate from 1990 to 2000, a rate of 35.3%. During this time Pike County went from having 3,200 manufacturing jobs to 4,800 manufacturing jobs in 2000. Manufacturing employment has even broken the 5,000-person line in 2001, but the current slowing economy has seen a few layoffs and plant closings in our area, displacing about 300 employees.
Job growth in Pike County has also fueled growth in the retail and service economy. In 1975 total countywide retail sales were $205 million a year. In 2000 retail sales exceeded $460 million. During this time personal income has also exploded. In 1975 personal income was $249 million for the entire county, by 2000 that figure has grown to $695 million. The tremendous increase in retail sales has helped McComb blossom into the retail hub of Southwest Mississippi. Major retailers like Wal-mart, McRae’s, Sears, Bath and Body and KB Toys have stores in McComb and a new Ruby Tuesday’s restaurant is currently under construction.
The factors for past success can be attributed to several specific areas. Job growth was accomplished by a successful industrial recruiting campaign. Since the mid-1980’s a number of prominent companies have located in Pike County; including Sanderson Farms, Pac One, Dixie Packaging, Magnolia Bottling Company, Fabricated Pipe, Inc., Duraw Manufacturing, Ye Olde Pallets, Magnolia Lumber Inc. Combined, these companies have created almost 3,000 new jobs in our local economy.
Currently job growth and stability in our economy look very promising. A new $500-million gas-fired power plant, being developed by NRG will break ground before the end of the year, a new manufacturing business is in development, and retail and commercial development activity in McComb remain strong.
Pike County is also developing a new industrial park that should break ground in 2002. This new park will have 280 acres, and will be accessible by the mainline of the Canadian National Railroad, and is adjacent to the McComb-Pike County Airport. Already 85 acres of the park is optioned to Cornell Corrections for development of a Federal Bureau of Prisons Resident Alien facility. McComb-Pike County is one of three finalist sites to host this 1,500-bed low-security facility that will serve the Immigration and Naturalization Service for housing illegal aliens convicted of immigration and drug crimes. This $40-million facility will employ over 300 local residents.
Britt Herrin is executive director of the Pike County Economic Development District. Members of the Mississippi Economic Development Council provide a weekly column to the Mississippi Business Journal. MEDC, which was established in 1963, is comprised of nearly 600 economic development professionals and business leaders who are interested in making their Mississippi communities better places in which to live and work.