One of the hottest growth corridors in the state right now is Lakeland Drive/Mississippi 25 that begins inside the Jackson city limits, runs through booming Flowood in Rankin County, and seems destined to march right into the town of Carthage in Leake County.
Developer Rodney Chamblee has a theory that in the future the only difference between Lakeland Drive and County Line Road is that County Line is two miles long and Lakeland extends to Carthage. “I have to slap myself every time I drive down Lakeland,” the owner of The Chamblee Company says. “I went up in a small plane several months ago and looked at it. It’s amazing. The future of that area is here.”
In business on Lakeland Drive for 26 years, he says it’s the busiest corridor, after Interstate 55, in the Jackson metropolitan area with more than 50,000 cars per day. The average income of residents within a five-mile radius of the corridor is $100,000. The population of the trade area is 250,000. That market has spurred retail/commercial growth.
Tom Troxler, executive director of the Rankin Economic Development Authority, says the Lakeland corridor has become the hottest new retail area in the state as evidenced by the large lifestyle shopping centers that have opened in the last three years.
“There’s over one and a half million square feet of retail at one intersection,” he said, “and more is scheduled to open. I look for the growth to continue moving northeast and push further east. A vast number of people have moved here and the average household income is such that retailers saw opportunities.”
He said the population of Rankin County was 85,000 in 1990 and currently is 130,000. The county consistently has the lowest unemployment rate in the state.
Unlike most economic development organizations, Troxler says the Rankin County Authority works with retail/commercial businesses a lot. “We work with existing businesses and on the retail/commercial side because that’s what’s hot right now,” he said. “We also look at bringing in high-tech and service sector industries. It’s a growing area and we are trying to keep up as best we can.”
Chamblee says another million square feet of retail space is on the drawing boards along with a $9-million Holiday Inn his company is building. “The market is so strong and success breeds success,” he said. “Flowood is recognized as a clean, safe city with the best fire and police protection in the state. They are stringent on zoning and land use. It’s being done right.”
He added that the city and county are working together for a unified partnership. Future needs include more schools and retail as both young families and retirees move into the residential areas bordering the Lakeland/Mississippi 25 corridor. He predicts that in ten years the population of Rankin County will increase by 50%.
“It’s the perfect storm. The city laid a good foundation 30 years ago to plan for growth. They encouraged commercial development, recruited hard and got it,” Chamblee said. “Property values have appreciated and the tax burden was taken off homeowners,”
His analogy is that Flowood is the next Germantown, an affluent suburb of Memphis. “It has a diversity of employers, hospitals, a large variety of recreational facilities, super private and public schools and easy access to interstates,” he said. “So far so good. It ends when the market is not there. It’s a very fertile ground for development.”
Sonja Dunaway of Dunaway and Bridges Realtors has been in business on Lakeland Drive since 1968. She remembers when development stopped at Ridgewood Road. “Now, it’s just absolutely going crazy and is going all the way to Carthage,” she said. “It’s unreal the way it’s booming.”
She says much of the property held by long-time owners goes into commercial use when it is sold. Every piece of property fronting Lakeland Drive is being bought up and developed. Land that once sold by the acre is now selling for $6 to $10 per square foot up to the area around Dogwood Festival where it’s selling for $20 to $22 per square foot. That’s where new businesses include Target, Lowe’s, Steinmart and Kroger.
In Carthage, city and county leaders are planning with an eye to the future. Linda Shepard, executive director of the Leake Industrial Development Development, said the growth on Mississippi 25 has changed their way of thinking.
“It’s impacted our vision and planning efforts,” she said. “We are trying to prepare with regional marketing efforts, land use, zoning. All these issues are being discussed and considered.”
Shepard says more people want to live in the area because they can enjoy a country style of living yet are near city amenities and employment. “We want to make sure we make them feel at home here,” she said.
One venerable Leake County institution has already changed to meet the new growth. The Carthage Bank was established in 1920 and recently changed its name to the Heritage Banking Group and opened a full-service branch on Lakeland Drive in Rankin County.
“We felt like we needed to capitalize on the growth,” said Frank Rhey, the bank’s president of 31 years. “That puts us 35 miles into the metropolitan area.”
Brad Ogletree, the bank’s investment officer, said the name change was handled in a successful way with a positive marketing campaign. “We wanted to remain an independent, community bank but grow and embrace new services,” he said.
Rhey says the opportunity for retail/commercial growth is definitely coming to Carthage. “The four-lane highway will soon be finished from Jackson to Starkville,” he said. “We’re on a good growth corridor and highway system. It will take cooperation between the cities to make this growth good for all sectors. The key word is planning.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.