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Contractor chooses to lose business to help community

Warren County Port Commission president gives up deals to serve

VICKSBURG — It is one thing to give up your time to do volunteer work. But it is another matter when that volunteer work keeps you from being able to bid on major projects.

As president of the Warren County Port Commission, John C. Moss volunteers many hours to recruit new industry to Vicksburg. But state laws prevent him from then bidding on contracts that result from new industry locating in the port’s industrial park. Moss is president of Moss Construction Co.

“Johnny really cares a lot about Vicksburg because in order to serve his community, he has to give up a lot of business,” said Jimmy Heidel, executive director, Warren County Economic Development Foundation. “It is the most someone could give for the love of their community.”

Recently when two Japanese Tier I Nissan suppliers, Calsonic and Yorozu, decided to locate in Vicksburg, Moss couldn’t bid on their work. But Moss donated his time to help the Japanese convey their construction plans to prospective contractors, clarifying needs and expectations.

“He is very dedicated to his community,” Heidel said. “He goes out of his way. He gives a lot of his time, and the community has been successful in attracting new industry and helping existing industry expand.”

Some people say Moss is crazy to stay on the port commission when it costs him work.

“I say it is important to me that Vicksburg gets the industry,” Moss said. “If Vicksburg gets the industry, I’ll get other work. I feel like it is important serving on the port commission. When you locate industry here there are so many other things that happen as a result. That is really the driving force in the economy that creates home building, more retail outlets and other businesses locating here to serve the new industry.

“This combination of forces builds into a situation where good comes to the community. And when good comes to the community, it comes to us. So we’re giving up those jobs in order to get some other work down the road, plus a better quality of life for Vicksburg.”

Moss is also active in other volunteer work. He just finished a three-year term as president of the University of Mississippi Engineering Alumni Association. Moss said the Ole Miss Engineering School is “a well-kept secret.” While not as large and well-known as the engineering school at Mississippi State, Moss said it is a quality school that has graduated a lot of quality people.

“They are really doing good things up there,” he said.

Moss believes service to the community is important, and particularly likes giving back to institutions that have helped him, and that can help others. He is also a member of the board of directors for the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce, and past president of the Warren County Economic Development Foundation and the Vicksburg Country Club Board of Directors. He also served previously on the board of directors for the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, now the Mississippi Development Authority.

Moss says he has never given much thought to how many hours he spends volunteering. The work is enjoyable so he doesn’t think about the time spent even though it can mean having to work at his office late at night or early in the morning to make up for the hours during the day spent on community projects.

“But I enjoy it and I believe I’m doing some good for the community,” Moss said. “I believe I’m able to help the community so it is rewarding from that standpoint.”

Although industrial recruitment at present is tough with the current downturn in the economy, Moss is confident that recovery will be here soon.

“Business has been cut off, but it will be back,” Moss said. “We’re a strong country. During times like this strong businesses will survive and the weaker ones won’t. The less efficient operations will not survive. Mississippi was fortunate to locate Nissan here at this time, which has helped keep the economy going. I think we are more fortunate than many other areas of the country. Mississippi is doing a pretty good job of economic development. We just need to adopt some form of tort reform. If we don’t, it is going to stifle a lot of things. It will stop industry from looking at Mississippi.”

A native of Meridian, Moss has been in Vicksburg since 1965. He says Vicksburg’s strategic location midway between Dallas and Atlanta is a plus for the economy, along with the strong river, railroad and highway transportation systems.

“And then we just have good people here who work hard and are ambitious,” Moss said. “It is a good place to live. I like the people here. The good thing about Mississippi is that people have high values, and work hard to make a living.”

Moss doesn’t claim credit for local economic successes. He says Jimmy Heidel, former director of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, is due the credit along with the pro-industry mayor, city board of aldermen and the county board of supervisors.

Moss is a civil engineer who previously worked for the Vicksburg Engineer District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. From 1969 to 1975 he was manager of the building division for Fordice Construction Company, owned by former Gov. Kirk Fordice, and from 1975 to 1984 was executive vice president and chief operating officer of Fordice Construction. In 1984 Moss and his brother, Bob, branched out to open a new construction company specializing in industrial and commercial building.

Some of the company’s larger projects include the $20-million project that included a 130,000 square-foot-building for LeTourneau Inc., Marine Division. LeTourneau manufactures offshore drilling rigs. Moss Construction also built the Batesville Casket rough mill, and has done numerous projects for Hebeler Vicksburg Inc., a welding fabricator that builds electric power generation equipment. The company with 26 full-time employees has also done numerous jobs for Rainbow Casino.

Moss finds construction a rewarding profession because the evidence of success is very visible.

“You get to build something, step back and say, ‘I did that with some help of a lot of people.’ There is nothing abstract about it. It is concrete. I can ride around town and look in almost any direction and see something I built or had something to do with. It’s fun from that standpoint.”

The downside is that contracting is a pressure business because everyone wants something done faster than it can be done.

“There is always that pressure,” Moss said. “You just have to schedule, get it done, and put up with the pressure. It takes a lot of skill to deal with people, and keep them satisfied. We try to give people what they ask for as economically as we can. And we give them good service. Giving them good service is what keeps us in business.”

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


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