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Ellisville economy buzzing with activity

ELLISVILLE — If you are driving down Interstate 59, blink and you could miss the exit for Ellisville. But try driving through town at peak times when Ellisville State School workers and Jones County Junior College (JCJC) workers and students are going to and from the campuses, and from the traffic snarl you’ll quickly see this a town bustling with economic activity.

Few people may realize it, but JCJC has enrollment that is higher than the number of residents of Ellisville. The largest single campus two-year college in the state, JCJC has more than 5,000 students and 375 employees. The population of Ellisville is 3,465.

“Students come to Jones to experience excellence in teaching and technology enhanced facilities,” said Dr. Ronald Whitehead, president of JCJC. “Jones County Junior College has the most affordable college education in the state, and a conducive learning environment enhanced by a beautiful campus and a friendly attitude exhibited by everyone.”

Ellisville is also home to the second largest employer in the county, the Ellisville State School, which employs an average of 1,500 employees to provide residential and community-based services for people with developmental disabilities. There are a number of such regional centers in Mississippi. The Ellisville State School, which serves 32 counties, is the largest regional facility for the mentally retarded in the state.

“We’re very proud of what we do,” said John R. Ford, business services director, Ellisville State School.

Ford said the total budget for fiscal 2003 is $67 million including salaries of $45.5 million.

Chris Wilson, Realtor, Managing partner of First Choice PLLC, Laurel, said few people are aware of how many people are employed at the state school, and the fact that JCJC is one of the largest community colleges in the state.

Wilson reports that there has been a large increase in commercial real estate activity in Ellisville in the past three years.

“I have been driving back and forth to Ellisville and made more real estate sales in Ellisville in the past three years than in the entire 25 years before that,” said Wilson, whose business is 90% commercial real estate. “The amount of work I have done in Ellisville in the past three or four years is a direct indication of the economic impact of this community. This little community is more active than it has ever been before.”

Wilson said the junior college does a tremendous amount of business. And the location of Ellisville between the two largest cities in the Pine Belt has spurred a lot of custom home building in the area by couples who have one spouse working in Hattiesburg and another in Laurel.

Wilson believes construction of the Howard Technology Park next to the Jones County Junior College will spur even more local development.

“This technology center is going to be one of three similar facilities in Mississippi,” Wilson said. “The activity there is going to change the picture even more.”

The Howard Technology Park will include the Southpoint Advanced Technology Center of JCJC, an advanced workforce training facility. Construction of the technology center, which will be located on 15 acres within the Howard Technology Park, is expected to begin in the spring of 2003.

“We hope to provide training at a level above that provided through the two-year programs at Jones,” Whitehead said. “We also expect that this will help the current work force in our region by providing them with training so they can take advantage of the technology that is available to industry to be more productive.”

Whitehead said the technology center’s goal is to provide an integrated and more effective core of education and training for the manufacturing and applied technology work force. This includes education and training in plastics technology, computer-aided machine shop (CAM), electronics, robotics, instrumentation, computer aided drafting (CAD), and the integration of all these technologies.

The technology center will also focus on improving the education and training of the information technology work force. This includes Local Area Network (LAN) in Novell, Windows 2000, Unix, Web design and e-commerce, project management, CISCO and other industry dictated certification requirements.

Another focus is to provide education and training in the use of computer technology for process definition, design and management in the wood products and agricultural industries. This includes workforce education and training in the areas of GPS/GIS systems, statistical process control, forest management, introduction of new technology into the regional wood-products workforce and maintenance and utilization of advanced equipment in order to obtain maximum performance.

All the activity at the JCJC and the state school translate into a strong local economy. While many towns in Mississippi have seen sales tax declines because of a slow economy, Ellisville is actually significantly above projections. City Clerk Kathy Brewer said the city had budgeted revenues of $298,000 from sales tax rebates to date for the current fiscal year. Instead, about $402,000 has been collected

Brewer said the city budgeted conservatively, and also has been helped by new businesses in town including a new Best Western on Highway 29 North, and a new Fast Track store and Domino’s outlet.

Another thing that is unusual is the town’s full occupancy rate for businesses. Brewer said every building in the town is occupied.

Ellisville is a bedroom community located seven miles south of Laurel and 26 miles north of Hattiesburg. The area is popular with couples with one spouse working in Laurel, and another in Hattiesburg.

“People live there because can work in either county,” Brewer said.

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

About Becky Gillette

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