When President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, the Mississippi Interstate Highway System came to life.
Forty-seven years later, the interstate system continues to be of extraordinary importance to Mississippi’s economy.
“Infrastructure helps to attract additional companies,” said Sherry Vance, director of communications for the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). “And at the MDA that’s a very large part of what we do to help communities focus on not only leadership activities but making sure they have the right infrastructure development to attract companies and create jobs.”
Jay Hambright, senior vice president of economic development for the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, said the advantages that interstates bring to companies have to do with dollars.
“The closer they get to the client, the less it costs for them, and if you’re shipping north, south, east and west that’s just a tremendous savings,” Hambright said.
Hambright added that interstates also entice warehouse and distribution facilities to an area.
“They all look for interstates and excellent transportation in general,” Hambright said. “Our highway systems are very good so it’s a real plus for the metro area.”
Lewis Slater, the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for governmental relations and staff director of the chamber’s transportation committee, said the advantages of being located on or near an interstate are numerous.
“One thing we don’t think of is our visibility issue,” Slater said. “Interstates give you visibility and also indirect advertising as a result of being located on the interstate.”
Slater added that the time element is also a plus for companies who choose to locate their operations somewhere that has interstate access. Choosing such a location allows employees get to work on time, which is important, but it also decreases the amount of time that goods will be on the road.
“Many companies are operating on as little as a one- or half-day inventory nowadays,” Slater explained. “That can give you nightmares if you’re in production control.”
Charles Doty, president and CEO of Jackson-based Lextron Corporation, said having good roads and access to facilities is always important to the customers that a company serves.
“The shorter the time frame that a customer can get to your facility or that you are able to ship your product to another facility increases your competitive advantage,” Doty said. “I think you have to have a very good transportation infrastructure to attract business and industry in order to grow your community.”
As Bill Hudson, CEO of the Salvage Inc., headquartered in Hattiesburg, described the state’s interstate system as the “arteries into the heart of our business.”
“I’m very conservative, politically speaking, and liberals always want to pour money into the interstate system, but that’s one area I think that’s a good place to spend money.”
Hudson said he depends on the interstate system to get goods to his distribution warehouse quickly, and the reverse is also true. He also depends on the interstate system to get his company’s goods where they need to be fast.
“It’s something we take for granted, but the interstate system is one of the great blessings of America,” Hudson said.
Sandy Holifield, director of economic development at the Economic Development Authority of Jones County (EDAJC), said most companies want easy access to interstates. Jones County’s proximity to I-59 is one of the things Holifield promotes when it comes to drawing industry into the area.
“They want that easy access for shipping or whatever and we’re lucky we have that in a lot of our industrial sites,” Holifield said. “We have Highway 11 and 590 and I-59 circles the whole industrial park. And for the majority of companies we have here good transportation infrastructure is something they need.”
Like EDAJC, the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation in Meridian also promotes its infrastructure to companies. In fact, said Wade Jones, president of the corporation, they recently completed a targeted industry mailing to distribution centers and trucking companies that included much information about the area’s proximity in particular to interstates 20 and 59.
“Logistics are such an important part of site location for so many companies,” Jones said. “(Infrastructure) is one requirement a community has to have in order to locate many industries. I can tell you that working with prospect companies, that is a key interest of theirs. The bottom line is that it’s an issue of transportation expense.”
Jim Flanagan, president and CEO of the DeSoto County Economic Development Council, said I-55 as well as DeSoto County’s access to the I-40 network in Memphis have been key catalysts for the commercial and industrial growth the area has experienced.
“Over the last five to seven years we’ve been able to parlay the interstate advantage in our favor,” Flanagan said.
But, said Gray Swoope, president of the Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership, even areas without interstate access can still make great strides in economic development.
“When it comes to moving goods and products into and out of areas, good infrastructure is critical,” he admitted. “But interstate access is just one of the many things that go into the equation. There are communities located on the interstate that aren’t successful while others are. You have to go back and see what your competitive advantages are. Some may not have incredible interstate access but are successful because they found a niche and sell to that strength.
“I don’t think it’s true that if you don’t have interstate access you can’t make it. We see it as a resource and a strength but if we had that and nothing else we still wouldn’t be a strong community.”
Whether a community is located along an interstate or not however, said Doty, it’s important that the public support infrastructure.
“As we prepare our state for growth opportunities and economic development opportunities, we certainly must keep in mind our road system and the quality of the road system we have and make budgetary appropriations to fund transportation infrastructure,” Doty said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org.