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Starkville, Oktibbeha experiencing wide-ranging growth

Starkville — Things are hopping in Starkville and Oktibbeha County. According to David Thornell, there are a variety of good things happening that include growth in industries, jobs, retail, housing, highways and population.

“We have a lot to brag about and seem to have hit our stride,” said Thornell, president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. “We are an economic hub for the region.”

The county continues to have monthly unemployment rates of less than 5% and is adding new jobs with companies that include Aurora Flight Sciences, SeverCorr and American Eurocopter. These high-tech companies are located at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, the state’s third busiest airport. “This is a major industrial site and we continue to talk to other companies who are interested in that site,” he said.

Meanwhile, the county’s 220-acre technology park is full and the Cornerstone Industrial Park is now open for business. This 227-acre traditional industrial park is located just off Mississippi 25 South.

“It’s upscale with underground utilities and landscaping,” Thornell said. “We expect a good tenant mix, including those looking for office space.”

The $100-million worth of road improvements over the past few years is a big boost to the area’s economic development efforts. The new four-lane segment of Mississippi 25 from Starkville to Louisville opened in November and a short segment from Louisville to Carthage is scheduled to open next summer.

“We will be surrounded by four-lane highways. That places Starkville in a much more convenient spot for companies bringing in materials and delivering to customers, plus visitors coming to sporting events,” he said. “With a first- class connection via highways, we can be a distribution/transportation hub in addition to the technology and automotive industries we’re attracting.”

AEA Technology Battery Systems is a recent new technology citizen for the area. The British firm announced plans to form a partnership with Mississippi State University (MSU) and will establish a research and development facility at MSU’s Diagnostic Instrumentation and Analysis Laboratory (DIAL) to produce portable power systems in support of space, defense and homeland security missions. Initially 20 jobs will be created with the potential for up to 100 jobs over the next few years.

Thornell credits MSU with its 4,000 employees and more than 16,000 students as Oktibbeha County’s greatest asset. The county owns a research park — the state’s first — near the campus. “It’s definitely a recruitment tool and an attraction for companies to tap into the brain power of the university and the engineering research center,” he said. “Attracting technology is what sets us apart from the competition. Sponsored research at MSU is a strength.”

He touts the university’s vehicular research center that is designing cars of the future and other specialty research. MSU’s research center is also home to SemiSouth that has 45 employees now. “MSU is more active than ever in economic development and all around with research and training,” he added.

There’s also the Powe Center, a business incubator that is full after being open only 18 months. One of the tenants, Client Logic, is a contract call center doing work for Microsoft and Net Zero among others. They now employ 850 workers and plan to have 1,000 by the end of the year. Thornell says the call center is increasing its contracts and likes employing students with flexible schedules.

With a student population in excess of 20,000, the call center has many potential employees. MSU’s freshman enrollment grew by 12% this semester for the largest entering class since the fall of 2000. East Mississippi Community College with 3,200 students is located nearby and is one of the state’s fastest-growing community colleges. Mississippi University for Women in Columbus also contributes to the expanding student segment.

Overall, the area had double-digit population growth in the decade of the 1990s. There was 16% in Starkville and 12% in Oktibbeha County. Thornell, who’s been at the helm of the Partnership for five years, predicts the same growth pattern when the current decade ends.

He says the area has a good variety of housing with diversity that includes traditional homes, gated communities, apartment complexes and condominiums. “With several recent groundbreakings we are keeping up with the demand,” he said. “A study by Coldwell Banker revealed that we have the lowest cost for housing in the Southeastern Conference communities.”

The Oktibbeha County Hospital is in the final stages of a $30-million expansion which Thornell describes as a real asset that serves well beyond the county.

“We are also seeing the continued growth of restaurants and retail. We’ve had 16 ribbon cuttings for businesses in the past few months,” Thornell said. “I can only see things getting better. We have a lot of momentum right now and a lot to offer.”

He feels the area will not come up short in anything that industries or individuals are looking for in a business environment, lifestyle and cultural and sports events.

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


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