Doing business on the state line can be a doubled-edged sword. Mississippi River cities with casinos can draw people from other states to enjoy gaming and related attractions. The river cities can also gain — or lose — retail sales, car tag revenues and residents because of their location next to Louisiana and Arkansas.
“It goes both ways,” said Laura Godfrey, president and CEO of the Natchez/Adams County Chamber of Commerce. “We feel like we benefit because basically we have a 60-mile retail trade area radius. We’re the bigger town, so people are willing to drive over and shop with us.”
On the flip side of it, Natchez is only an hour’s drive from Alexandria, and a 1.5 hour drive from Baton Rouge, both larger cities with big malls. Godfrey said it can affect the bottom line in Natchez because people will travel to the larger metropolitan areas for major shopping trips.
Because Natchez draws tourists from Louisiana as well as elsewhere, Godfrey said they stay ahead of the curve in overall economic impact.
“I feel like we benefit because people come here not only to shop, but because we are a fun and pleasant place to visit. There are multifold attractions to this city, and we know that works in our favor.”
Living across the river
A number of area workers live in Louisiana while working in the Natchez-Adams County area. Lower car tags and property taxes are only one reason Adams County workers may live across the river.
“A lot of people live in Louisiana because we have these beautiful elbow lakes right across the bridge that are great for resort-type living,” Godfrey said. “They work here and commute back and forth. And some people choose to live in Louisiana so their children can go to Louisiana State University without paying out-of-state tuition.”
Up river in Vicksburg, a similar dynamic is in play with people who have homes across the river in Louisiana at Lake Bruin.
“I know a lot of people have summer homes at Lake Bruin,” said Jimmy Heidel, executive director, Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation. “They spend a lot of time over there fishing and waterskiing. Some of the best hunting and fishing is in that area, so a lot of people have hunting clubs over there. There is also a golf course over there.”
But Heidel says overall Vicksburg benefits economically by drawing Louisiana residents for shopping, and services such as health care. Vicksburg also serves as a regional shopping and health care hub for smaller communities nearby in Mississippi including Rolling Fork and Port Gibson.
Mississippi car tags are more expensive than those in Louisiana, which can lead to abuse if residents illegally purchase the cheaper tags in Louisiana. But Heidel said he doesn’t think there is a lot of abuse of car tag purchases because people must own property in Louisiana to legally purchase car tags there.
Promoting economic development regionally is a major trend, and those sorts of efforts can be more complicated when regions cross state lines. But Heidel says it is still possible, and gives as an example current efforts to cooperate with Louisiana for workforce training to provide skilled workers for some of the jobs being created in the Vicksburg area.
Heidel said meetings were held recently with the mayor of Tallulah, located 16 miles across the state line in Louisiana, and representatives of Mississippi and Louisiana community colleges regarding providing coordinated training for workers needed to staff Nissan suppliers locating in the Vicksburg area.
“It is feasible for two states to come together with their training monies to train people,” Heidel said. “Some of the labor for the Nissan suppliers will come from that area over there.”
Heidel said for the most part there is more cooperation than competition between Mississippi and Louisiana in his neck of the woods.
“I’m sure if we had a city our size 10 miles across the state line there would be competition,” Heidel said. “In economic development, regionalism has become a very popular thing to do like you see with the metro Jackson economic development efforts. In the Carolinas, you see regional organizations where they forget city, state and county lines.”
Industrial park benefits
Vicksburg has the edge over Louisiana for industrial development because Warren County has a fully developed industrial park, while the closest similar facility in Louisiana is located 80 miles away in Monroe.
The two states have cooperated in the past on a joint venture to develop an airport in Mound, La., to serve industrial and business clients on both sides of the state line. Legislation was passed by both states to allow development of the airport with a 5,900-foot runway that serves the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has major installations in Vicksburg, and private businesses.
Heidel predicted that more similar cooperative ventures will be seen in the future.
Tommy Hart, executive director, Industrial Foundation of Washington County, Greenville, said that Greenville benefits from a strong economy in neighboring Louisiana and Arkansas.
“In our trade area we have influence from northeast corner of Louisiana and the southeast corner of Arkansas,” Hart said. “There is a substantial population base in that area, and certainly a lot of agricultural activities that purchase goods and services out of this center. That is very important to us. We are very interested in the local sales tax generated by citizens from Louisiana and Arkansas that come to this center for goods and services. Having a good economy in those areas is something we strongly support.”
Being the largest population center in the area means that Greenville draws from a large radius. And while there are tax differences, Hart thinks those have little bearing on issues such as deciding which side of the state line to live on when you work in Greenville.
Like with Natchez and Vicksburg, there are popular housing developments located across the state line. But Hart said while property owners there may have lower property tax rates, they also pay twice as much for fire insurance. The same is true for people who live in Washington County outside of the city limits of Greenville. When you add up taxes paid through all forms of local taxation, Hart said it comes out pretty even.
“A lot of citizens of Greenville have gone over to build homes around Lake Chico, which has developed into an attractive water recreation area,” Hart said. “People enjoy that type of living arrangement. They are going over more for the recreation than trying to lower taxes.”
Hart does see some barriers to development that come from being located on the state line, and believe there should be efforts to address those issues.
“The Mississippi River in many ways is like a barrier, a wall,” he said. “There are two countries. You have the problem of having to call long distance to the west side of our trade area, and long distance from the west side of our trade area to the east side. We really should have one local call area in our trade area. That would help. The same thing is true with cell phone service. We have a company on one side and a different company on the other side of the river. But with some of the new programs with national calling, that isn’t the problem it once was.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.