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Estimated 21,000 vehicles pass Morton each day on I-20

Infrastructure improvements set stage for Morton growth

Morton — Lot of cities talk about cooperation between elected officials. But few have the enviable track record of the City of Morton. In the recent municipal election, the mayor and board of aldermen all ran unopposed.

“We are all working hard to make Morton a better community for everybody who lives here,” says Morton Mayor Greg Butler. “We have had a good working relationship with our board. We don’t agree on everything, but we all agree we want Morton to grow and prosper while improving the quality of life for all of our citizens. We’re investing in beautification, community development and economic development. Our citizens and business leaders have joined us in this effort. We are all working together to move our city forward.”

Morton is located off busy I-20 about 35 miles east of Jackson and 55 miles west of Meridian. The town that is a 30-minute drive from the Jackson Evers International Airport has been investing substantially in infrastructure development designed to support future growth.

The city annexed out to I-20 in 1999, and since then has extended sewer to the interstate and upgraded water lines in that area from four inches to 10 and 12 inches.

“We now have the infrastructure in place for good things to happen,” Butler said. “Because of the improvements, last year Koch Foods built a 165,000-square-foot distribution center in that area. About 84 people are employed there, and there are about 100 trucks going to the distribution center each day either carrying product in or out to distribute across the country.”

Mississippi 13, which connects to I-20, provides lots of room for commercial development such as convenience stores, motels and restaurants. Roosevelt State Park is a half mile from the interstate and draws about 200,000 visitors each year. Roosevelt State Park has a visitor’s center with a mini-convention center for up to 200 people, group camping facilities for 104, 109 campsites, 20 lodge rooms with kitchenettes, 15 cabin units, lighted tennis courts, 150-acre lake, water sports, a water slide and multi-purpose sports field.

There are an estimated 21,000 vehicles per day that travel Interstate 20 at Morton.

“It is a great location for businesses to come in and do well,” Butler said.

In the past three years, the city has added 3.5 miles of sewer lines inside the city limits, installed a 1,000 gallon-per-minute water well and a 750,000-gallon storage water tank.

“All of these are for the purpose of looking ahead and being able to accommodate any growth that may occur in the future,” Butler said.

Morton, which has a population of 3,500, also serves as a retail hub for surrounding smaller communities and rural areas. And while city leaders have their eye on more development along the Mississippi 13 and I-20 corridors, there has also been a healthy increase in business downtown.

“Since the year 2000, we have seen a 20% increase in sales tax collections in Morton,” Butler said. “Some of it has been due to what we have done at the interstate. But the majority is what is happening in the downtown area. We have had a lot of new businesses that have opened up in the past five years. Five years ago there were several empty buildings, and most of them are occupied right now with stores, restaurants and other types of businesses.”

Butler said Morton provides the best of both worlds. It isn’t far from bigger cities for residents who want the amenities of a large urban area. But it has the advantage of being a small city with a low crime rate, cohesive community relationships and support of the family unit. He said the pace is unhurried, and “stress is not a way of life.”

“Having said that, we want to grow,” Butler said. “All communities need to grow, but we want to keep that same small town atmosphere with low crime, good schools, good recreation and clean and safe neighborhoods. What we are striving to do in Morton is make the quality of life better for the people who live here and other people who may want to move to Morton.”

In addition to Koch Foods, the other largest employers in Morton are Craft-Co Enterprises, Cox MHP, R&K Manufacturing, Morton Industries and W.E. Blain and Sons. The city has 17 acres available at an industrial park located on the west end of town, and another 200 acres on the east end of town available for industrial sites.

Interesting history

Morton was originally named Greenbush when it was founded in the mid-1800s by Col. Caleb Taylor of Kentucky. When the Meridian-to-Vicksburg railroad line was completed, Col. Taylor changed the town’s name to Morton in honor of his wife, Alice Morton Taylor.

The Civil War brought destruction and debt to Morton, and the post-war years brought fire and crop failure.

“But the people of Morton never gave up,” states the city’s Web site, www.cityofmorton.com. “They worked when there was a job to do, rebuild wherever there was loss, and the character of the town emerged. Now, many decades since Col. Taylor first walked through the virgin forest, Morton is a thriving, progressive community. Abundant natural resources and a strong work ethic support Morton’s industries, producing everything from poultry to automotive suppliers. But the people of Morton are untainted by this progress. Life here is still uncomplicated and the air is clean. This community works hard, dreams big and respects itself. Here is the place to make home.”

‘Very pro-business community’

James H. “Jim” Finley, chairman and CEO of Craft-Co Enterprises Inc., assists when industrial prospects come to town. His company manufacturers switch assemblies, interior lighting assemblies and wiring assemblies for customers such as General Motors, Ford, Daimler Chrysler, Jaguar and Saab.

“It’s a very pro-business community,” Finley said. “Now that Morton has been annexed to the expressway, we are looking for that to bring in new retail activity that will give people traveling through more reasons to stop and take a look around Morton. Maybe with the state park there it will attract some hotels and restaurants.”

Finley said his company’s experience has been that the mayor and board of aldermen in Morton go above and beyond the call of duty to help existing industry.

“In particular the mayor has offered to assist us any way he can to get business with Nissan,” Finley said. “We have a close relationship with the mayor and aldermen in Morton. We help each other out. We believe it is a great thing for new businesses to move to Morton. The broader perspective is the more business we have, the more opportunities we have to improve the quality of life for people in Morton. I think Morton is primed to grow. There is open capacity for residential development, open capacity for industrial development and open capacity for commercial retail.”

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

About Becky Gillette

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