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Micropolitan areas using designation to enhance development

It may not mean much to the citizen in the fork of the road, but Mississippi has 19 areas designated by the U.S. Census Bureau as micropolitan areas. Economic developers are taking notice. The new designation was introduced in 2003 based on data collected in Census 2000. Like metropolitan, the micropolitan concept refers to an urban core area with a population of a certain size. However, a micropolitan area’s urban core is much smaller and for the most part surrounded by a rural area that supports the economy of the core.

Gray Swoope, the Mississippi Development Authority’s assistant director, says developers have known of these centers for a long time but the official classification can do nothing but help. “If I was in one of these areas, I would absolutely use it as a development tool,” he said. “It’s better information to define your area and shows economic strength.”

Although MDA has no designated program specifically for micropolitan areas, he stresses that the classification is from a credible, independent source and worthy of marketing by these communities.

The 19 micropolitan areas and their constituent counties are as follows: Brookhaven (Lincoln); Clarksdale (Coahoma); Cleveland (Bolivar); Columbus (Lowndes); Corinth (Alcorn); Greenville (Washington); Greenwood (Carroll, Leflore); Grenada (Grenada); Indianola (Sunflower); Laurel (Jasper, Jones); McComb (Amite, Pike); Meridian (Clarke, Kemper, Lauderdale); Natchez (Adams); Oxford (Lafayette); Picayune (Pearl River); Starkville (Oktibbeha); Tupelo (Itawamba, Lee, Pontotoc); Vicksburg (Warren); and Yazoo City (Yazoo).
But, what exactly is a micropolitan area? According to the Census Bureau, to be designated as micropolitan, the area must have at least one urban cluster containing a minimum of 10,000 people but less than 50,000.

Dr. Barbara J. Logue, senior demographer with the State Institutions of Higher Learning, says that nationally, these areas are flourishing, attracting both people and businesses with cheaper land, lower taxes, lower crime rates and other amenities.

“The majority of micropolitan areas in the state have been losing population in recent years,” she said. “This fact is worth noting because it stands in sharp contrast to the nation where many are flourishing. In Mississippi, however, many micropolitan areas seem to be losing ground to the attractions of metropolitan areas.”

Swoope says the micropolitan designation is just now showing up in the state and will help these areas that are not big enough to be a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). “It will have a huge impact with retail,” he said. “Companies will look at these areas for retail relocation. This designation puts areas on the radar screen that might not show up otherwise.”

He said MDA is also using the information for research and while they promote all the state’s communities, the designation is another aid for the marketing tool box.

Jerry Fraiser says Yazoo City and County haven’t used the designation yet, but he’s well aware of it and finds it interesting. “We feel it’s an advantage and that we can incorporate it into our designation as a HUD renewal community and other state and Federal designations that we have,” he said.

As president of the Yazoo City Development Foundation, Fraiser is pleased that his city appeared in a Wall Street Journal article as one of the 567 micropolitan areas officially listed by the Census Bureau. “Those areas have more than 28 million people, one out of ten Americans lives in those areas,” he quoted from the piece. “As an example Movie Gallery video rental stores from Beaver Dam, Wis., to Yazoo City, have doubled their number of stores and sales in the past three years in these micropolitan areas.”

Fraiser says his area has other assets to offer companies looking to relocate, including a combination of skilled and unskilled labor. Recent employment setbacks at Hood Packaging were offset by the opening of a new Federal prison that brought in 300 jobs. “We are soliciting Federal prisons and it looks like we’ll get another one,” he said, “for a total of 600 jobs with an average yearly salary of $44,000.”

He also notes that a closed K-Mart store was redeveloped by a local person to restore 120 jobs. The space now includes department, grocery and sporting goods stores, a dentist office and regional office for Medicare.

“If you put the pencil to it, we’re ahead with jobs,” he added. “We feel pretty good about it and hope to have more announcements to make soon.”

In McComb, Britt Herrin also feels the census designation is helpful in marketing his area. “They’re realizing that a community goes beyond the traditional political boundaries and recognize that places like McComb are regional hubs that extend beyond county boundaries,” he said. “We’ve known that and it’s good to have it recognized.”

Herrin is executive director of the Pike County Economic Development District and says the recognition is helpful for marketing purposes. “We’re a lot more active on the retail side and feel there are more opportunities,” he said. “We have a lot of growth not usually found in cities of 14,000 and want to grow on that.”

He notes that McComb has a shopping mall and stores not usually in towns that size other than college towns. “For retail, we do a 40-mile radius and that even goes into Louisiana,” he said. “Our analysis goes into five Mississippi counties and one Louisiana parish.”

He says the area’s labor force is regional too and goes into adjacent counties as people are willing to drive 20 and 30 miles to work.

Additionally, the McComb area has had a lot of growth in the medical field with the Southwest Regional Medical Center as the hub covering approximately 200,000 people in a 30-mile radius. “That spurs retail growth, too, and there’s a lot more medical growth out there,” Herrin said.

He’s been in McComb 12 years and feels the area will continue to grow, especially with post-Katrina growth speeding up that trend.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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