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Howard Tech Park fueling South Mississippi economic growth

ELLISVILLE –The Howard Technology Park, envisioned for many years as an economic engine to drive growth of technology firms in Jones County, is up and running. And it isn’t just high-tech companies it is drawing.

“The spinoff developments from Howard Technology Park have been fantastic,” says Ellisville Mayor Tim Waldrup. “The county beat that Ellisville is a part of is the fastest-growing beat in the county. We have subdivisions coming into the county and the city is in preparation for the influx of people who will work at the tech park. There are houses going up everywhere at the present time. I think that is the primary spinoff from the tech park, although it is not fully developed at this time.”

Ellisville has a population of 3,500 at night, and much higher in the day, as indicated by a traffic count of 11,000 vehicles when people commute to work or attend school at the local public schools, the Jones County Junior College, the Ellisville State School and the Howard Technology Park.

The area is proving popular now with people relocating from Hattiesburg. Mayor Waldrup said he isn’t sure what is behind that trend, although lower prices for housing only a 15-minute drive on Interstate 59 to Hattiesburg is likely to be a factor.

“A lot of people are moving here,” Waldrup said. “They are finding they like a rural setting. I think part of it is the tech park and Ellisville are growing. People want to be a part of that. In 20 years, their house and land may be worth a good bit more than they paid for it.”

The Howard Technology Park has been open for about a year.
“The park didn’t receive much damage from Hurricane Katrina other than the loss of trees along the boulevard,” said Sandy K. Holifield, economic development director for the Economic Development Authority (EDA) of Jones County. “None of the infrastructure was damaged and was restored within just a few days. Hurricane Katrina did delay construction for both facilities.”

Like other areas of the state, Jones County has had tax increases since Katrina.

“A lot of that is because of the repair work from damages that were done,” Holifield said. “But we are also seeing several housing developments expanding, a new development being planned and individuals building new homes. Even though Jones County was one of the hardest hit counties other than the Coast counties, we are almost back to normal.”

Two anchor tenants have completed or are nearing completion of their facilities. The Jones County Junior College Advanced Technology Center is completed. The 53,000-square-foot facility offers space for customized training or re-training for business and industry in the areas of information technology, applied manufacturing and agriculture science and forestry.

“It also has incubator office space that is available at low cost for start-up companies,” Holifield said. “And, it has a state-of-the-art, 288-seat auditorium, classrooms, computer labs and an exhibit hall. The grand opening for the center is scheduled for December 5th.”

The 70,000-square-foot Howard Computer plant and 50,000-square-foot Office Tower are nearing completion. Plans are for a grand opening of both of these facilities, as well as the 200,000-square-foot Howard Sub-Station Transformer Plant (which is located across Mississippi 11 in Tech Park South), in the spring of 2007.

Howard Industries, which was started by Laurel native Billy Howard in 1968, has grown into the largest transformer and fourth largest ballast manufacturer in the world.

The company has branched out into the $150 billion-dollar per year market in microcomputers by establishing Howard Computers. Howard Computers specializes in lines including servers, desktops and rugged laptops well suited for construction and other heavy industry.

Company executives expect to employ more than 5,000 people in the next decade.
The EDA of Jones County continues to target their marketing to attract more high-tech companies to the park.

“Recently we have had a few inquiries from software development companies that are interested in the park because of its location and infrastructure,” Holifield said. “We feel those are two of our biggest selling points. Since the hurricane, some businesses are looking a little more to the north. Since we are located in the heart of the I-59 Technology Corridor, which starts in Meridian and goes down to Stennis Space Center, we feel that in itself will attract attend to our area.”

A company called Polytube that located at the park a few years ago to be near Howard Industries is now in the process of an expansion. Holifield said they have had some interest from a few other companies, as well, that are looking at the area because they are suppliers to companies located nearby.

The park has been designed to provide everything high-tech industries need. Utilities are placed underground, and there is protective zoning and covenants for the park that has landscaping of protected green space to enhance the natural beauty of the site. People who work at the site can enjoy taking a break by visiting the lake that is the centerpiece of the park, or getting some exercise on one of the walking trails.

Economic development officials say the 504-acre site is re-energizing the industrial park concept bringing together technology-based industries with research development and training, while partnering with traditional heavierindustry at the adjoining Tech Park South.

“The technology park is the result of a strong partnership of various entities representing industry, government and education,” the EDA says. “Each of them envisions not only enhanced benefits within their own spheres of influence, but a greater growth foundation for companies and firms that will reside in the park.

Southern Business and Development magazine has proclaimed Howard Technology Park “a super site” for economic development, “especially suited for companies creating technology products or processes.”

In total, the Howard Technology Park and Tech Park South, known collectively as the Jones County Technology Complex, cover 960 acres. That is one and half square miles located next to Interstate 59.

For more information about Howard Computers visit www.howardcomputers.com. For more information at the Jones County EDA, visit www.edajonescom.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

About Becky Gillette

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