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Mississippi MSAs fueling significant growth, development

In the economic development world, it is highly desired to be part of a metropolitan statistical area, or MSA. Cities and counties included in MSAs have added clout and visibility with companies searching for new site locations.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the general concept of a metropolitan area is that of a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of social and economic integration with that core. The Office of Management and Budget defines metropolitan areas for purposes of collecting, tabulating and publishing federal data. Metropolitan area definitions result from applying published standards to Census Bureau data.

Mississippi has only five of the 361 MSAs in the country and one of those has an out-of-state city as its core. Those five are Gulfport-Biloxi, including Hancock, Harrison and Stone counties; Hattiesburg, including Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties; Jackson, including Copiah, Hinds, Madison, Rankin and Simpson counties; Memphis, including the Mississippi counties of DeSoto, Marshall, Tate and Tunica; and Pascagoula, including Jackson and George counties.

“An MSA is basically a data and record-keeping device. One way it has an impact is when you’re looking at federal grants,” said Scott Hamilton, director of communications for the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). “Developers want that information on an MSA basis. Economic development organizations like it and it matters to some businesses.”

However, he said that MDA is looking out for the economic well-being of the whole state, not just those cities and counties that are part of an MSA.

Raising visibility

Ranking number 55, the Memphis MSA is the only one in the state listed among the nation’s 100 largest MSAs. It includes counties in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.

Jim Flanagan, president of the DeSoto County Economic Development Council, says the MSA designation has provided heightened visibility in the marketplace from a competitive standpoint. “DeSoto County affords the same logistic opportunity that Memphis has,” he said, “plus we have incentives and a quality of life here. The metropolitan area is home to a large airport, and we are cooperatively marketing ourselves as a region.”

Growth in DeSoto County is pretty well balanced among residential, industrial and commercial segments, and all create jobs. It is the 35th fastest-growing county in the nation and ranks 25th in the percentage of new housing starts. The county is averaging 1,500 jobs created per year with an average of eight new locations and 12 industrial expansions.

Hitting the half-million milestone

The Jackson MSA achieved a major milestone this past year by reaching a population of 510,000 people in the MSA, the only one that size in the state. “It was a big step to put us over a half million,” said MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce president Duane O’Neill. “A lot of opportunities will come because MSAs are looked at by category and might not be looked at in the 200,000 to 250,000 range because they may think you don’t have the population base for that company.”

He feels the Jackson MSA will now be looked at by many sectors. “We’re very diverse — an urban city but also rural and suburban areas,” he added. “Diversity is good and this is a benchmark for us.”

O’Neill says being part of an MSA really does matter when you’re out there competing to bring in business. “Before we even talk to companies, they’ve done research on us,” he said. “Good figures and statistics are very important.”

‘Good story to tell’

With the new designation, he says the Jackson MSA will market mostly the same but it will help get them pre-selected. Jackson is the only city in the MSA but works with the five counties as one body.

“We have a good story to tell. We make sure we have the kind of workforce ready to go in with new companies,” he said. “We have a workforce that will give fair work and can be trained. It is highly recognized as being capable.”

He says the Nissan plant in Madison County has helped raise the workforce’s level and recognition. “The fact that they were able to get so many lines up and running speaks volumes about our workforce,” he affirms.

George County, now a part of the Pascagoula MSA, knows the importance of location. That may seem like a paradox for a county that like most of Mississippi’s 82 governmental subunits is rural and traditionally challenged to recruit industries and jobs. Populous Mobile, Ala., lies to the east, the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the south and Hattiesburg to the west. All have good transportation in and out.

“Being on the state line and near the Coast and Hattiesburg is geographically beneficial. Now when developers and industries look up MSAs, we pop up too,” said Sue Wright, executive director of the George County Economic Development Foundation.

Stone County is also well positioned. Located between Hattiesburg and Gulfport, it is part of the Gulfport-Biloxi MSA. Russell Hatten, executive director of the county’s Economic Development Foundation, says the future is bright there.

“It’s a combination of things. We have a really good workforce and can give training that businesses need,” he said. “We have a vibrant community where companies can do business at a reasonable cost and can escape metro congestion.”

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


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