PURVIS — Lamar County’s economy has experienced significant growth over the past decade. In 1990, the county’s assessed valuation stood at $105 million. Today, that figure exceeds $243.9 million.
It is hard to imagine that just a few short years ago. Lamar County was experiencing the difficulties of many of Mississippi’s rural counties with the majority of the county’s employment being provided by companies and businesses that were not located within its borders.
Today, the majority (76%) of jobs held by Lamar County residents are provided by companies and businesses located in Lamar County. Wesley Medical Center, Turtle Creek Mall, Coca-Cola Bottling, Cooper Power Systems, Sunbeam Oster, Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club and numerous other companies employ over 13,000 people and provide an array of employment opportunities that create a well-diversified economy which has a stabilizing effect on the area economy during times of national economic downturns.
The retail and service sectors concentrated on Hwy. 98 in Hattiesburg continue to be the dominant sectors in the county’s economy, comprising 39% and 23%, respectively. Transportation access has been improved along the Highway 98 corridor and a new east-west thoroughfare, the extension of Lincoln Road, connecting Lamar and Forrest Counties has been completed and is attracting new developments into the county.
Recently, a 300+ unit high-end apartment complex announced plans to locate near the new Lincoln Road artery and an upscale subdivision has also been announced. One of the area’s largest churches has purchased 40 acres along the artery for future expansion purposes.
The county’s population growth, one of the fastest in the state, has added nearly 9,000 people in the last 10 years. In addition to the employment opportunities offered to residents, a variety of lifestyles in the cities of Hattiesburg, Lumberton, Purvis and Sumrall are also available.
The addition of Canebrake Golf Community, ranked the third best course in the State of Mississippi by Golf Digest Magazine, and Shadow Ridge Golf Community to the existing Pine Creek Golf Course anchors the recreational facilities in the county. The Leaf River Rails-to-Trails project made available miles of multi-use recreational trails to residents and visitors and has become one of the most popular and heavily used trails for biking in the area.
Lamar County and the surrounding area have become a regional medical center in Southeast Mississippi and are home to Wesley Medical Center. Located on Highway 98 in Lamar County, Wesley provides state-of-the-art medical care to residents of Southeast Mississippi. Wesley recently added a heart and lung center to its facility, adding cardiovascular and thoracic surgery to the programs that Wesley already had in place, to form a comprehensive cardiopulmonary care service. South Mississippi State Hospital, a 50-bed acute care facility for the mentally ill, is located in Purvis.
The county’s educational system continues to garner a Level-5 rating, the highest accreditation that can be attained. A new high school was recently constructed to accommodate the explosive population growth in the Oak Grove area located in the northeast portion of the county. Other facilities across the county have been expanded and the school board continues to upgrade facilities and programs as conditions warrant.
Housing starts in the county have steadily increased over the last decade from 196 in 1990 to 427 in the year 2000. Subdivision growth in the county continues to attract working families and retirees into the county. Projections indicate that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future.
County business and political leaders are continuing to work together to improve the economy and quality of life of area citizens. The latest development toward that end was the creation of a privately-funded economic development organization. Operating under the trade name “The Foundation,” the organization will provide economic development services in the greater Hattiesburg MSA area.
Working hand-in-hand with the Lamar County Economic Development District, The Foundation will be a significant component of the county’s economic development marketing efforts. Public and private sector cooperation in the county will continue to drive the economy to new heights, providing jobs and a better quality of life for area citizens and contributing to the overall economic well-being of Mississippi.
Blake Wallace is president of the Lamar County Economic Development District in Purvis. 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.