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Down in the land of Lincoln (County), all is well

BROOKHAVEN — Local economic developers insist not much has changed since Brookhaven resident Bernie Ebbers resigned as WorldCom CEO in April and subsequent accounting errors were discovered.

“It does not affect Brookhaven’s reputation one bit,” said Chandler Russ, executive vice president for the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. “Brookhaven is still the best location to start or locate your business in Southwest Mississippi and, in my opinion, the South in general. Brookhaven has a can-do attitude and an entrepreneurial spirit that is unmatched. A bad couple of years (for WorldCom) on Wall Street cannot erase that. We will continue to work hard, grow our markets, expand our industrial and business community and increase our tax base to provide opportunities for our citizens.”

Have any companies that the chamber has been trying to recruit called to say they’re no longer interested or have concerns because of the Ebbers/WorldCom situation?

“No, absolutely not,” said Russ.

In 2001, nearly 300 jobs were created when four new companies located to Lincoln County and two companies expanded. Around the same time Delphi Corp., North America’s largest auto parts maker, laid off 6,100 workers, the company completed a $78-million expansion at its Brookhaven plant that added 130 jobs. Earlier this year, Delphi’s additional $11-million expansion gave the plant a total of 600 jobs.

“That hasn’t been affected at all by the recent WorldCom events,” said Russ.

Last year, EPCO, producer of CO2 (carbon dioxide), announced it would invest $7 million and create 16 jobs in Lincoln County.

“That investment is up to $11 million and up to 38 jobs,” said Russ.

Continental Carbonics, a maker of dry ice, plans to build a facility that will add 45 jobs to the area.

“That’s 16 to 18 months out,” said Russ. “They haven’t even started construction, but nothing has changed because of WorldCom. They’re moving forward with their plans.”

Small Warehouse and Distribution Company has committed to build a 20,000 to 30,000 square foot facility, which will create 15 jobs. Parkway, LLC, a utility construction company and a joint venture of David Parker and Danny Dunaway, will add 30 jobs when construction on a new facility is complete. An engineer is analyzing sites for new industrial property for the chamber of commerce.

“Our local economy is so diverse, from manufacturing auto parts to liquid CO2 to screen wire to timber,” said Russ. “That’s where the heart of the economy is at-that existing manufacturing base.”

Retail businesses haven’t been hurt by the recent events. Brookhaven is home to a Wal-Mart distribution center and Wal-Mart owned-McLane Southern Grocery Distribution. Together, the companies employ some 1,900 people.

“For the past two years, which incidentally is the length of time that WorldCom stock has declined, our sales tax collections grew 6%,” said Russ. “Quite frankly, Brookhaven’s local economy and how it functions is not tied to the success or failure of WorldCom.”

Numerous commercial projects are popping up around town, and two small strip shopping centers are being built.

“We have very little available commercial property,” said Russ.

According to the 2000 Census, Lincoln County grew 9.8%, adding nearly 3,500 residents to the county and making it one of the fastest growing regions in the state. Brookhaven is one of the top 20 municipalities in the state for sales tax collections.

“We’re a regional service hub,” said Russ. “Regardless of WorldCom, people still need products and services — simple supply and demand.”

Danita Hobbs, chamber president and principal at Martin Elementary School in Brookhaven, said the community “is a strong one built on

strong business and industry. That’s the backbone of our economy.”

Work on a supersite similar to one being developed for Lee-Union-Pontotoc counties has not been deterred. The Southwest Mississippi Partnership, a 10-county volunteer economic development organization established in 1992, recently began the site selection process.

“We want to have a site selected within the region that could hold the next Nissan-type project,” said Russ.

Kenny Goza, president of the Industrial Development Foundation and account service manager for Entergy, said they are always looking for new industry for Lincoln County and Southwest Mississippi.

“We’re never satisfied with where we are,” he said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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