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DeSoto’s medical, commercial growth attracts new residents

There has been a snowball effect from all the new development in Mississippi’s fastest-growing county, DeSoto, which also ranks as the 35th fastest-growing county in the country.

First came the rooftops, people moving in for more home for less money than in nearby Memphis, lower taxes and less crime. That spurred commercial development including a new mall, a $175-million expansion at Baptist Memorial Hospital-DeSoto and the passage of a $120-million school bond issue. And now the new schools and enhanced medical facilities are attracting even more new residents.

“The commercial development follows the residential, and we have seen so much quality residential growth,” said Richie Burnette, commercial real estate broker and developer with The Burnette Company in Hernando. “We are experiencing residential development on all fronts, and that brought the beginning of the mall in Southaven. Horn Lake and Olive Branch have experienced major commercial growth as well.”

While the greatest amount of growth has been seen in Horn Lake and Olive Branch, the county seat of Hernando has really begun to take off in the past 12 to 18 months. “Hernando is finally getting its share of the growth in DeSoto County,” Burnette said.

What’s the draw? Burnette said it is a good quality of life that includes stable taxation, quality schools, excellent recreational facilities and access to state-of-the art medical facilities.

“As I look back over the past few years, when Baptist came to DeSoto County in the late 1980s, that was a new plateau for the county to have someone with that size and credibility making a major investment here,” Burnette said. “And now you have them making a much greater investment as they expand. They are a huge employer and pay good wages. It is also a big piece of the puzzle when you are looking for a place to live. You want your family to have access to first-class medical facilities.”

Another positive element is that city and county leaders have done a good job staying ahead of the curve with the infrastructure improvements needed to cope with the growth.

“Now the challenge is to look to the next 20 years and do as good a job as the leadership has done in the past 20 to 40 years,” Burnette said.

Part of the growth has been fueled by state and local incentives for attracting new business and industry — including businesses from the Memphis area relocating or expanding.

“Both DeSoto County and the State of Mississippi are making it attractive for Memphis businesses in the position to consider expansions,” said Jim Flanagan, president and CEO of the Desoto County Economic Development Council. “They may have run out of space or possibly are in an aged facility. They are looking for a chance to expand and also improve their bottom line. The elected officials in DeSoto County are very active in the process of providing property tax exemptions for companies that are creating new jobs and capital investment.”

Lower taxes are attractive for businesses and industries looking for a new home. Flanagan said when companies find out about the inducements for locating in DeSoto County, the county and Mississippi usually win out in the corporate site selection process. The availability of existing sites and buildings is also a major plus.

Running the numbers

Another factor is the productivity of the workforce.

“That has been a distinct advantage here in DeSoto County,” Flanagan said.

Flanagan said the DeSoto Council works closely with business and industry, civic organizations, city and county governments and chambers of commerce in Hernando, Horn Lake, Olive Branch, Southaven and the town of Walls. The results of the past 10 years include the following:

• DeSoto County has attracted 197 new and expanded industries — an average of more than 19 per year.

• More than 7,000 new jobs have been created.

• There has been an estimated total of $1.2 billion in new capital investment, an average of $122 million per year.

• Population has increased to more than 107,000, a growth of 58%.

• DeSoto has a higher average household income than the state average. In 2000, DeSoto County’s average household income was $55,627, compared to the state average of $31,897.

“DeSoto County enjoys the best of both worlds being so near the cultural and recreational amenities of metropolitan Memphis, yet offering a secure suburban environment with affordable housing costs,” Flanagan said. “DeSoto County is one of the fastest growing counties in the Mid-South area. There are a wide range of social, religious, recreation and outdoor and community activities. The county’s residential neighborhoods, apartment complexes, medical and retail facilities are all expanding, while education remains a strong part of the community.”

The availability of industrial and office/retail sites is also a draw. Currently there are a total of 136 buildings and sites available including 26 industrial buildings, 40 industrial sites, 36 office/retail buildings and 34 office/retail sites. Because of the county’s strategic location near Memphis on major highways, DeSoto County has been particularly successful attracting distribution centers. And there is plenty of room for more: industrial sites include more than 1.1 million square feet in the Southaven Distribution Center, 700,000 square feet in the Airways Distribution Center and 428,000 in the I-55 Distribution Center.

The county also has large acreage available for industrial sites, including 6,600 acres at the Newport Industrial Center complex located at Lake Cormorant, the 3,000-acre Leatherman Property in Walls, the 2,000-acre Brentwood Industrial and Business Park located in Walls, and more than 400 acres in the Olive Branch Distribution Center. Burnette said Hillwood Development, a Ross Perot Jr. company, has made a substantial investment in the City of Southaven and DeSoto County with the decision to acquire acreage for development as they have done in Dallas and Southern California. According to Burnett, Hillwood’s DeSoto Trade Center is 675 acres and once built out will be more than 11 million square feet, making it the largest development in the Memphis area by one developer.

New and Expanding Business and Industry Incentives in Mississippi and DeSoto County

• A right-to-work law in the state constitution.

• Foreign Trade Zone designations.

• No sales tax on purchases of raw materials, processing chemicals or packaging materials

• Partial (50%) sales tax exemptions for purchases of construction materials, machinery and equipment in DeSoto County

• A 1-1/2% tax on machinery and parts used directly in manufacturing and on industrial electricity, natural gas, and fuels

• Favorable unemployment insurance rates and workers’ compensation rates

• State-sponsored financing programs for land, building and new equipment

• Favorable individual and corporate income tax rates

• State income tax credits for five years of $500 for each new job created by a new or expanding business, providing 20 or
more jobs are created

• Five-year state income tax credits of $1,000 for each new R&D job created

• Companies establishing or transferring regional or national headquarters to Mississippi may be eligible for five-year state income tax credits of $1,000 for each new job created and full sales tax exemptions for direct purchases of construction materials, machinery and equipment for the headquarters facilities

• State income tax credits equal to 50% of child/dependent care expenses

• State income tax credits equal to 50% of basis skills training and job re-training expenses

• State income tax credits for qualified industries in conjunction with certain bond financing agreements

• 10-year exemptions from county and city property taxes, except school taxes and road and bridge taxes

• Perpetual exemptions of all property taxes on finished goods distributed outside of the state through a Free Port Warehouse Law

• Customized industrial training programs provided through the Northwest Mississippi Community College

• Utility companies offer discounts on telephone and electric rates to eligible companies

• Quarterly incentive payments through a diversion of withholding taxes for certain qualified businesses.

For more information, see the Web site www.desotocounty.com.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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