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Yalobusha County sees growth and potential in days ahead

Although recent attention has been focused on the closing of the state-backed beef plant at Oakland, leaders in Yalobusha County believe this negative can be turned into a positive.

They optimistically point out the good things happening in this rural county that has a population of 13,051 according to the 2000 Census. Nor do they rule out the possibility of the beef plant re-opening as the same type of facility.

“Don’t write it off yet,” says Rex Howell, president of the Yalobusha Economic Development District. “The whole state is focused on that one area, but it’s not dead yet. We’re all upbeat and positive that we’ll find someone to run it.”

He and Rep. Tommy Reynolds list the merits of the infrastructure that exist in the Oakland area now to support new industry. “That whole area along Interstate 55 has good potential,” Reynolds said. “After enduring all that we’ve endured, it’s a positive thing for Yalobusha County. Most anything can happen in that area now because it’s more attractive. It’s been brought into the resource mix that others had and completes the chain.”

Community Bank owns the beef plant building and equipment and the county owns the 150 acres of land where it’s located. The land is not labeled as an industrial park, but Howell says it will function as such. He has shown the property to 10 prospects. The location has access to the interstate, a railroad connection, water, natural gas and a $2-million electric substation.

‘Ripe for investment’

“It’s ripe for investment and a good location for someone,” he said. “It would have been a big shot in the arm for Oakland and they need it.”

While the plant was open, 350 to 400 people worked there and were paid good wages, Howell said. He believes they will come back if the plant re-opens. Both Howell and Reynolds say the Oakland area doesn’t have many opportunities for employment.

The county board of supervisors, the Mississippi Development Authority and Community Bank are marketing the beef plant facility’s resources around the country. Reynolds, who represents Yalobusha, Tallahatchie and Lafayette counties, says they hope to find operators who will benefit the state.

“If you don’t have these resources, you are eliminated,” he said, “but with them most anything can happen. It makes us more attractive.”

A new convenience store has opened at the I-55 interchange, Reynolds says, and he’s heard a motel will be built there.

Howell says residents would like to have an automotive plant in the beef plant facility, but he thinks any type of industry would be wonderful for the area that has experienced the closings of two garment plants and a poultry plant in recent years. There are rumors that a company is looking at the old poultry plant.

An automotive parts manufacturer, Borg-Warner, is the county’s largest employer and has been there several years.

“They are the county’s lifeblood,” Reynolds said. “It’s very helpful to have them and young people like Casey Washington who started Valley Tool, a tool and die plant that does work for a lot of companies. I wish we had 1,000 like him.”

‘Good place to do business’

In addition to the property at Oakland, Water Valley and Coffeeville each have areas designated for industrial development and are looking for businesses to locate there.

“People would be pleasantly surprised if they come here,” Howell said. “It’s a good place to do business. Land prices are still low and the University of Mississippi is just north of us.”

Bonnie Cox, director of the Water Valley Chamber of Commerce, says the area has a lot of farming with good bottomland for corn and soybeans. There was a time when the town was called the watermelon capital of the state. Although not many watermelons are grown around Water Valley anymore, the chamber still sponsors the annual Watermelon Carnival. This year’s event is scheduled for August 5 and 6.

“Approximately 20,000 people attended last year,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun with family and school reunions, street dances, and good food.”

She says the town of 3,700 is growing despite a fire that destroyed three businesses. One of those, an antique shop and tearoom, reopened in a new location. Also, two new restaurants and a frame shop have opened. Soon a bakery will open too.

‘Untapped resources’

Although there is little business from tourism in Yalobusha County, there is abundant recreation with lakes, fishing, camping and hiking. Almost all of Enid Lake is in the northern part of the county and Grenada Lake is in the southern portion. Cossar State Park is there, too. It’s a large park with a restaurant, cabins and 16 employees.

“These are largely untapped resources to some degree,” Reynolds, a Silvarena resident, said. “The park is quite an asset.”

He says the county is multi-dimensional with a lot of diverse things going for it. Recreation is right up there with everything else.

The county’s proximity to Oxford with its educational and medical growth is considered a major asset. Reynolds says additional four lanes are on schedule to be built to highways connecting the two areas.

“Oxford picked up over 8% growth last year, and I think that will increase,” he said. “People can buy cheaper houses in Water Valley and work in Oxford. Hopefully, the highway construction will stay on schedule.”

Howell says a lot of Yalobusha County residents already work in Oxford and also in Grenada and Batesville. “We’re surrounded by towns that are growing like crazy and that’s good for us,” he said. “We can function as a bedroom community. We’re seeing young people move to this area because they like the small town charm.”

A resident of the county all his life, Howell is a Realtor who works part time as the economic developer.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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