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Rankin County sees widespread growth and variety

Here is a trivia question. When did Rankin County experience its “Golden Era” of economic and community development? And the answer is — right now. The Central Mississippi county is seeing phenomenal growth across the area in industrial, commercial and residential development, which leads Tom Troxler, executive director of Rankin First, the county’s economic development authority, to believe that the county has never seen anything like it.

“Usually, growth in a region is restricted to one or two areas, or is limited to certain types of development,” said Troxler, who has headed Rankin First since its inception in 1992. “But we’re seeing growth here on Lakeland/Highway 25, Interstate 20, Highway 49 and in the communities of Richland, Florence and others — even Pelahatchie. The development includes new stores, plants and homes. I don’t believe Rankin County has ever seen this kind of growth ever in its entire history.”

Business booming

The landscape along Rankin County’s major thoroughfares indeed seems to change on a daily basis. New retail and commercial projects, many of them high-profile types such as the City of Pearl’s Bass Pro Shop and Mississippi Braves/Trustmark Park, both of which were completed in 2005, are leaping from the ground. A look at sales tax collections tells the story.

According to the Mississippi State Tax Commission, in 2003 Rankin County’s total sales tax collections were approximately $119.7 million. In 2004, they grew to approximately $133.5 million, and they stood at approximately $143.9 million last year.

Figures from the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) show that there were 46 new non-manufacturing facilities announced in the county in 2005 and 33 non-manufacturing expansions. And that pace continues. From January-April 2006, there were eight new non-manufacturing projects unveiled and six expansions.

The most visible of Rankin County’s commercial/retail developments is on Mississippi 25 and Interstate 20. Dogwood Festival, the sprawling, 700,000-square-foot retail complex that serves as the area’s unofficial “centerpiece,” continues to attract new developments. As example, Neopolis Development Group, LLC, is still formulating plans for Flowood Town Center, which would be located on Mississippi 25 near Dogwood. The $325-million development would include both retail/commercial and residential property and possibly the City of Flowood’s offices on approximately 140 acres.

On Interstate 20, Bass Pro Shop and Trustmark Park, located in the new Bloomfield “lifestyle” development, are serving as anchors of yet more development. Pat Renegar, who manages Bass Pro Shop-Pearl, said he knew that developers were talking with prospects interested in land on both sides of Bass Pro Shop, but was not privy to details. And, the Economic Development Administration announced earlier this month that it is investing $1 million to help build an access road to serve Bloomfield.

Development along U.S. 49 is also in high gear. Just a handful of years ago, the area between Richland and Florence contained mainly homes. Businesses were few. However, that stretch along U.S. 49 continues to fill with commercial and retail concerns.

“It wasn’t that long ago that there was hardly any commercial development here,” said Henry Dunklin, founder of the Dunklin Appraisal Group and longtime resident of Florence. “Now look. Property values have skyrocketed, and new businesses are springing up all the time. It is incredible.”

Sometimes lost in the commercial/retail shuffle is the county’s thriving industrial base. Manufacturers continue to find the area’s infrastructure, which includes two interstates (I-55 and I-20), U.S. 80, U.S. 49 and Mississippi 25 as well as Jackson-Evers International Airport, an attractive draw. In 2005, three new manufacturing projects and 15 manufacturing expansions were unveiled, according to the MDA. From January-April 2006, two manufacturing expansions were announced.

Manufacturers/distributors dominate Rankin County’s “Crossroads” at The Stack, where the area’s interstates and federal highways converge. Now, prospects are starting to eye land to the east. As example, Brown Bottling Group recently announced that it was consolidating its Jackson operations with a move to the East Metropolitan Center in Brandon. And, in April, the ribbon was cut for the new East Metro Parkway, offering better access to the industrial park located on Mississippi 18.

According to Troxler, these entities continue to gaze ever eastward. “We’re getting a lot of inquiries about the Pelahatchie area for manufacturing and distribution,” Troxler said.

Putting down roots

The biggest recent happening in Rankin County was the announcement that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering a site in the county as one of three possible locations in Mississippi for its new National Bio and Agrodefense Facility. Communities around the nation are competing to land the 500,000-square-foot complex that would cost $500 million to build and employ approximately 400 workers. A decision is expected by the end of the year, according to Troxler.

One of the considerations for the facility’s site selection is the livability of the area. Judging by the residential development in the county, it should have a leg-up on competition.

In 2005, Rankin County set a new record with more than 2,500 new homes built. Troxler said the county is on pace to match or exceed that in 2006. He added that the growth in residential development is the key to the county’s current flush times.

“We have Level 5 schools, low taxes, low crime,” Troxler said. “We believe that Rankin County is one of the best places to live and work not only in Mississippi, but across the region.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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