PASCAGOULA — Layoffs in manufacturing and shipbuilding have hit Jackson County hard, particularly Moss Point where two major employers — International Paper and Rohm and Haas — are shutting down operations.
But hopes are pinned on a comeback for “the Industrial County of Mississippi” in light of promising prospect activity.
The activity has been alluded to by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss) in appearances on the Coast during the congressional summer recess. Without giving specifics, Lott has indicated some major developments are incubating. That is confirmed by George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation (EDF).
“We do have some very exciting opportunities looming on the horizon that I believe we will see materialize in the very near future,” Freeland said. “We have multiple investors looking at potential site locations in Jackson County right now. Jackson County is, despite some of the adversities we’ve had to endure over the last three to six months, still very competitive in the process of recruiting new investment. We see multiple opportunities for new investments. We are also seeing fairly consistent interest on the part of local businesses to expand by acquisition of new buildings, sites and equipment.”
Freeland said the county is also making progress from the site location perspective, and is taking aggressive steps to prepare for investments. He also lauded the new public/partnership for economic development represented by the Jackson County EDF.
“Jackson County is really building an economic development consensus,” Freeland said. “Successful economic development really is at its very core a team effort, and our economic development efforts must present a unified front from county elected officials, utilities and businesses. Existing businesses can be our greatest asset in the recruiting process. We are building a five-year strategic plan and a vision for economic development. Organizationally, that is something to be excited about. I don’t believe that has ever been done in Jackson County.”
Jackson County has a number of competitive advantages including a trained labor force, good highway, rail and marine transportation systems, a pro-business climate and a good quality of life. Freeland said quality-of-life issues are very important to companies considering new site locations, and that the quality of life on the Coast is a major advantage.
“All of these combined make us extremely competitive and make us a very attractive location for new business and investment,” Freeland said. “Also, we’re dealing on a consistent basis with existing operations looking to expand, and are looking at what resources exist to help with expansion, primarily in the form of financing.”
A new $15-million call center operated by Cingular Wireless recently opened in Ocean Springs employing about 600 people at the 100,300-square-foot former Wal-Mart building located on U.S. 90. The annual payroll will be about $21 million, helping offset the loss of jobs in eastern Jackson County.
Further east on U.S. 90 in Ocean Springs new commercial developments continue around the new Wal-Mart Supercenter. Nearby there is a new Salvetti Brothers restaurant and several medical complexes are under construction.
In Gautier and Pascagoula work continues on improving the causeway and bridge over the Pascagoula River. A new high-rise, four-lane bridge will replace the current two-lane drawbridge that has been plagued by frequent operating problems that can leave drivers stranded for hours.
Terry Carter, president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said the high-rise bridge is going to have a significant economic impact on commercial and retail trade in the area.
“Clearly it is going to alter the traffic patterns within the City of Pascagoula, which will enhance certain real estate, and retail and commercial trade,” Carter said. “The old drawbridge is a real pain that has disrupted traffic and commerce. There is no question the old bridge has been an inhibiting factor to commercial trade because people try to avoid traveling over that bridge. It is a bottleneck for traffic. With the new high-rise bridge, you are going to see a quicker flow of traffic along Highway 90 and a higher traffic count.”
Carter said a major impact of the bridge will be enhancement of Market Street as a principal commercial area.
On the industrial recruitment end of things, Carter congratulated the Mississippi Export Railroad on its efforts to develop an industrial park. The railroad’s park near Helena in northern Jackson County is the first developed in Jackson County in many years. It is the first private industrial park in the county.
“It is wonderful to see a private enterprise come in and do the development,” Carter said. “It is a vote of confidence in Jackson County and an expression of clear leadership by the management and stockholders of Mississippi Export Railroad. The park is very significant.”
Mississippi Export Railroad officials took the action in the wake of losing two of their largest rail customers, International Paper and Rohm and Haas in Moss Point.
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com or (228) 872-3457.