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Manufacturing losses might be overcome by regional approach

New industrial park could help offset 2,000 layoffs

PASCAGOULA — The total layoffs in manufacturing for 2001 in Jackson County have reached 2,000, says Roger Mack, Pascagoula office manager for the Mississippi Employment Security Commission (MESC).

However, the news is not all bad.

As a result of the tight labor market and the regional character of manufacturing on the Gulf Coast, many of the workers being laid off from Friede Goldman Halter, International Paper and Rohm and Haas have opportunities for employment if they are willing to relocate or commute.

“We have a lot of out-of-town employers who have been expressing interest in workers laid off,” Mack said. “Cingular Wireless is proposing to hire 700 workers starting in August at their facility in Ocean Springs. We have been working with them to help staff that plant. That’s been an outlet for some laid-off workers. Ingalls has put on a few more people, so that has taken up some of the slack in the labor market.”

At the same time Ingalls has been hiring some blue-collar workers, it has been announced that about 500 white-collar jobs are being eliminated as a result of parent company Northrup Grumman consolidating office jobs at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula and the Avondale shipyard in New Orleans. The jobs being cut at both locations are a result of continuing consolidations.

Out-of-town shipyard employers who have contacted the MESC looking for workers include Hutco Inc., a Louisiana firm, and Job Crafters and D&B Contractors, who are hiring workers in Mobile. Mack said some local workers who have been laid off have expressed interest in applying to work at Nissan, which generated a lot of interest when participating in a Jackson County job fair recently.

He said that since a large percentage of jobs in Jackson County are based in manufacturing, continuing to lose jobs in that area hurts the economy. But Terry Carter, president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said the county is somewhat cushioned because the impact is spread out over a large area.

“The economies of the Gulf Coast region are definitely linked, and businesses today are viewing their operations on a regional basis, which includes hiring from a regional basis,” Carter said. “Many of the workers in our county are residing in areas outside of Jackson County. So when you have an economic downturn, the impact is spread over a much larger geographic area. The converse is true as well. When you have an upturn, the positive impact is spread.”

In May 2001 Jackson County employment stood at 69,250, and unemployment numbers totaled 2,900. The total number of people employed in manufacturing was 17,880, which represents about 25% of total employment.

“Manufacturing is critically important to Jackson County,” Carter said. “The manufacturing sector is what drives the base economy. You have a large manufacturing employment base added to industry buying goods and services locally, which causes the service sector to grow. The manufacturing and service sector combined feed the commercial and retail sectors of economy. Without a substantial industrial base, then your economy is redefined.”

Carter said there are advantages and disadvantages of having a large industrial base. When times are good in an industrial county like Jackson, benefits are magnified by the turnover in the community. When times are bad, there are also more ripple effects than with an area like Mobile, that is more service sector based.

Usually the burden of attracting new industry to take the place of industries lost — as has been seen in Jackson County recently — would fall to the government. But currently the Mississippi Export Railroad has taken steps to attract more industry to the county by developing a new industrial park near Hurley.

“International Paper and Rohm and Haas were the railroad’s second- and third-largest customers,” said Roxane Jenne, manager of marketing and business development, Mississippi Export Railroad. “By the end of the year we will have lost both of them. The Mississippi Export Railroad is in the process of developing an industrial park in Hurley. Our main objective is to stimulate the growth of our company, and we have an opportunity, at the same time, to replace jobs that have been lost due to these plant closings.”

The railroad is developing 179 acres of a 640-acre site, and is in the process of having the land rezoned from agriculture to industrial. Jenne said a manufacturer that would employ 250-300 people has expressed interest in 25 acres on the site. Negotiations have not yet been finalized.

A lack of available industrial sites has been identified by the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation as an impediment to growth. Jenne says the railroad’s efforts are a way to provide those sites without the county being required to purchase the property.

Wetlands regulations are a difficulty in securing industrial sites in Jackson County. Jenne said there are wetlands on the site, and that the company plans to mitigate for filling the wetlands located close to the railroad tracks by creating wetlands from uplands located closer to residents that border the property. The wetlands would be part of a buffer zone planned to reduce the impact to the neighbors. Some neighbors have objected to the zoning change, which has been approved by the Jackson County Planning Commission and now faces a vote from the Jackson County Board of Supervisors.

Jenne said the site is very marketable because, in addition to railroad availability, there is a nearby natural gas transmission line, Mississippi Power Company’s Plant Daniel is located about two miles away, and highway access is good. The site is near Highway 63, which is now four-laned to Hattiesburg, and about fives miles away from Interstate 10 and Highway 613.

Initial economic impact estimates of the proposed industrial park, based on anticipated types of businesses most likely to locate there once park is built out, include creation of 800 jobs direct jobs and 355 indirect jobs, an annual payroll of $24.8 million of directly created jobs, investments in building, infrastructure and equipment of at least $325 million, ad valorem tax revenue to Jackson County of $2.19 million, and school tax to Moss Point schools (no exemptions allowed) of $1.85 million.

The Mississippi Export Railroad has proposed a similar development to George County officials on a site near the George County Industrial Park.

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

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