After making its mark as the nation’s third-largest gaming destination, Tunica County is heading in a new direction.
Tunica County leaders recently unveiled a certified 2,221-acre Metro Mega Site in Northwest Mississippi, 30 minutes south of Memphis. Bordered by two four-lane highways and serviced by Canadian National Mainline Railroad, the Tunica County site is most notably near the new Interstate 69, scheduled to connect U.S. 61 and Interstate 55 by the end of November.
“Since gaming entered Tunica County in 1992, the growth in the economy has been provided by entertainment venues and gaming,” said Lyn Arnold, president and CEO of the Tunica County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation. “From the beginning, the leadership in Tunica County viewed gaming as a means of raising the economic level of the citizens of the area, and gaming has accomplished that goal. And, along those same thoughts, another goal has been to diversify the economy so we aren’t solely dependent on agriculture and gaming. Working to create a full, well-rounded economy has always been a goal of the board of supervisors.”
Six years ago, county leaders began developing a comprehensive economic development program to identify potential industrial sites and target industries that would provide additional jobs at higher skill levels and with greater salary levels.
“We’re part of the Memphis MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area), which has experienced tremendous growth in warehousing and distribution and is also a prime location for manufacturing,” said Arnold. “Next door is DeSoto County, which has also experienced exponential growth in these areas in the past 10 years. Part of the process in growing the economy is looking at what is working near us and has the potential to expand into our area. With the assistance of Cushman & Wakefield and other consultants, we determined that automotive, warehousing, distribution, pharmaceuticals and food processing were all viable target industries for Tunica. Automotive manufacturing is the ‘sexy’ industry to be pursuing right now, but our site will accommodate any large manufacturing facility or a combination of manufacturing and distribution.”
Considering the positives
Robert Hess with Cushman & Wakefield Global Consulting performed the due diligence in the site certification process, in which Entergy Mississippi and Tunica County were partners.
“Since Katrina hit last August 29, the news media has presented numerous negatives,” said Entergy spokesperson Ann Becker. “But we are recognizing many of the positives in the aftermath. Entergy sees unprecedented opportunities for economic development within our service area. Economic development is most successful when the people within the prospective area are proactive, innovative and have a can-do attitude. It is what makes an area a stand-out to developers after the usual considerations for precertification have been met.”
The intense certification process scrutinized every aspect of the site, from utilities to community commitment. Hess checked off a list of 10 criteria necessary for minimal consideration in the consulting business. Some of those requirements included a large, contiguous, flexible site with all utilities adjacent or on site; rail access; interstate access; competitive workforce within a short commuting distance; and completed environmental and engineering studies.
“As we started the process and began looking at parcels of land available for development, we realized that the corner of Highway 61 and Highway 304 met many of the characteristics of mega-sites,” said Arnold. “From there, we thought, why not?”
The site sits at the corner of Highway 61, a four-lane divided highway, and Highway 304, a five-lane road. Interstate 69 represents the southern border of the site. The nearest port access, the Port of Memphis, is 20 miles northeast. County leaders have also identified a port site in Tunica County for future development. Canadian National Railroad’s main line track is located 2.5 miles east of the site.
Tunica County commissioned a labor study by Wadley Donovan, a highly respected firm known for its workforce research.
“One question that occurred to us as part of our due diligence was whether we could supply the workforce required for a large manufacturing concern, especially automotive,” said Arnold. “Automotive companies generally require a population of at least a million people in a 30- to 50-mile radius to be able to attract the employees with the skills they need. Our labor study definitively answered that question. With over 1.4 million people within a 50-mile radius and our proven ability to attract employees from a three-state, 10-county area, this is seen as a strong point for our site.”
Tunica County leaders, who have collaborated with North Mississippi economic developers Jim Flanagan in DeSoto County, Janie Mortimer in Tate County, Ron Hudson in Coahoma County and Sonny Simmons in Panola County, have fast-tracked the mega-site project, concentrating on making it “shovel ready” by completing archeological, engineering and soil studies, and packaging the information in an easily available format.
“Gantt charts have been prepared to tell a prospect when they can expect various upgrades to be complete, how long it takes to construct a pad …,” said Arnold. “We’re poised to present our site in the best light and to be competitive with any mega-site on the market.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.