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Northeast Miss. thriving with new industries, expansions

It is hard to top 2006 when it comes to favorable publicity for Tupelo. The city was rated number two by Site Selection magazine for economic development in micropolitan areas.

“That was based on the numbers of jobs and capital investment for 2005,” said David Rumbarger, president, Community Development Foundation (CDF), Tupelo. “We feel like we have come up with another outstanding year in 2006. We have four new industries and 24 expansions creating a total of about 714 new jobs. That represents about $50 million in new investment and over two million square feet of new space.”

Times have been difficult for the furniture industry this year, and the Tupelo area has seen closings including Brookline Factory and Advantage by Lucky Star with the combined losses of about 500 jobs.

“So it makes those 714 jobs we created all the more important,” Rumbarger said. “Furniture is still under stress, but we are working with the Franklin Institute at Mississippi State University to develop some more tools for furniture manufactures to use in their processes that can help them compete.”

One of the new industries that opened this year is General Atomics, a company that will make magnetic aircraft launchers for the new generation of aircraft carriers.

Rumbarger said U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) deserves credit for helping make that development happen. The plant represents a different type of technology for the area utilizing magnetics and electronics.

Fabco, a Nissan supplier, expanded. And there was an expansion into furniture for H.M. Richards, which makes furniture exclusively for Rooms to Go. Another firm, FMC Technologies, diversified to manufacturing marine loading arm for natural gas.

“Then one of our first industries recruited after World War II, Daybrite-Capri-Omega, added a new customer demonstration center and training center,” Rumbarger said. “This is one of the largest major domestic lighting companies in the U.S. Most of them have gone overseas. They compete in the custom and mass markets.”

Another accomplishment in 2006 is the county voted to increase the millage the CDF receives, which will allow the foundation to buy an addition 200 to 300 acres of industrial park land.

“We have used most of our rail sites, so we are looking for rail sites,” Rumbarger said.

Another highlight of the year was the opening of the new Renasant Center for IDEAS (Innovation, Development, Entrepreneurship and Action,) a 38,000-square-foot regional business incubator.

Also in 2006, three counties in Northeast Mississippi, Pontotoc, Union and Lee, decided to exercise options for acquisition of the Wellspring site, which is a TVA-certified megasite. Plans are underway to convert options to purchase agreement for 1,200 acres of the Wellspring site at a cost of $11 million. Rumbarger said the Wellspring site will allow the region to compete on large scale economic development projects that need a thousand acres or more.

“It has been a fantastic year,” Rumbarger said. “We have had a lot of activity. We have had a good balance with existing business, new business and small business development entrepreneurship, and infrastructure development by buying more land.”

Oxford

In Oxford, one of the major achievements of 2006 was the announcement that $20 million will be invested in a University of Mississippi research park that is currently in the planning phase. Max D. Hipp, president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, says just like Starkville and Hattiesburg, Oxford sees big advantages in capitalizing on research activities at the university to grow new businesses utilizing more advanced technology. A search for an executive director for the park is underway, and the park is expected to be built out next three years.

Oxford has also received national publicity. The etirement program was featured on CNBC. And the city also saw widespread exposure with an ABC News piece about Oxford being named as one of the best three small college towns for investment.

“A lot of people must have heard it because there has been a lot of investment around here,” Hipp said. “Oxford is continuing to grow. An awful lot of condos and apartment have been built in the area in recent years. We think the pace of construction will settle down now.”

Another national news hit was Oxford being featured in The New York Times as a growing small college town with a nice environment for retirement.

Corinth

Corinth has also had a stellar year. Although figures aren’t yet available for 2006, Corinth had more than $150 million in development projects in 2005, said Charles Gulotta, president of The Alliance. Major projects include a $50-million investment at the city-county hospital, $40 million for Kingsford Manufacturing, a $35-million expansion at Kimberly Clark and various shopping center and other industrial development projects.

“This has been another excellent year for our community, and we would include the opening of our Northeast Mississippi Community College Center in that,” Gulotta said. “They have moved into a 77,000-square-foot building in our industrial park achieved with wonderful cooperative project between the college, the City of Corinth and The Alliance.
“We have also seen some outstanding recruitments in our downtown. We consider our downtown Corinth a real jewel. We have an excellent Main Street Association that works with the city, business owners, the community at large and The Alliance to beautify the downtown with infrastructure improvements like planters, benches, trash receptacles, lighting and related infrastructure. We have about 50 downtown apartments which we consider to be outstanding for a community our size.”

The Corinth Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) had its budget increased from increased hotel occupancy and restaurant sales. Ten years ago the CVB was collecting $450,000 per year, and this year the total is in excess of $670,000.

“Our new Crossroads Museum moved into the Downtown Depot, and the $9.5-million Civil War Interpretive Center continues to draw tens of thousands of visitors annually,” Gulotta said. “We are continuing to explore tourism opportunities in recreation and related areas. Our Crossroads Arena continues to attract quality recreation activities. We have concerts, horse shows, county basketball tournament, meetings and other large scale uses.”

Gulotta also complimented city and county officials for making strategic investments in the community and supporting economic and community development programs.

Tishomingo County

Tishomingo County also had quite a year. Gary Walker, FY 2006 chairman for the Tishomingo County Development Foundation, said some of the highlights include new companies such as Roll Form Group, New River Homes, CSM Inc., and Skyline Steel. Expansions occurred at Tiffin Motorhomes, FerrouSouth, Pickwick Pines Resort, River Trace Resort, Sunair Products, Waterway Inc., Domes International, Dynasteel and others.

“We are working on a significant number of new and expanded projects that will bear fruit in years to come,” Walker said. “Our progress is due to partnerships, both within and without. We thank our board of supervisors, mayors and boards of aldermen, Tishomingo County Electric Power Association, Yellow Creek Port Authority, Rep. Ricky Cummings, Sen. J. P. Wilemon, Speaker Billy McCoy, Sen. Travis Little and Rep. Jamie Franks for their untiring support and encouragement. We ask that our partners continue to work together to improve the economy of Tishomingo County and the lives of the citizens of Tishomingo County.”

In August, Gov. Haley Barbour joined Skyline Steel vice president Tom Madison to cut the ribbon on a new $17-million facility in Tishomingo County. The state-of-the-art steel processing facility manufactures spiral welded steel pipe used primarily in heavy construction such as buildings, bridges and wharves. Employment is expected to exceed 100.
The Tishomingo County Tourism Council worked hard during the year to promote the county’s tourism and recreational resources such as two major reservoirs, seven marinas, two state parks, the Natchez Trace Parkway, 10 Corps of Engineers parks, several private residential resorts, three museums, a cluster of import and outlet shops and thousands of acres of prime game management areas.

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

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