The Mississippi Delta may not be announcing new economic development projects with big names, but this special part of the state is holding its own. Professional economic developers there say the area is not without challenges, but progress is part of the expansive landscape.
“We’re seeing an influx of small supply businesses and retailers with five to 10 jobs each,” said Angela Curry of the Greenwood-Leflore Industrial Board. “We don’t have anything big, but we certainly have labor available for larger manufacturers.”
She pointed out that Tunica in the northern part of the Delta has a large site suitable for an automaker such as Toyota and was looked at by the Japanese company. “We would have to pool labor from all the counties. People would commute just like we have some people now commuting to work at the Nissan plant in Canton,” she said.
Curry said the Delta is a unique area of the state. “We’re in a rural state to begin with and we’re the most rural part of the state,” she said. “Budgets are small for economic development. When site selectors are looking from outside our area, they see small rural towns, and we don’t have many cultural things. That’s just a fact.”
However, she says Delta towns are finding ways to put their communities in the best light possible. For instance, Greenwood is hoping to land the proposed state civil rights museum.
“We have a site that’s ready at the closed Florewood State Park,” she said. “There are several structures in place and it wouldn’t take much effort to develop it there. It would certainly be an economic boost for this area, and we know tourism is economic development.”
Continuing to revitalize Greenwood’s downtown and develop more retail is also the way to go with the strong base they now have, she added.
Curry, Ron Hudson of Clarksdale and Judson Thigpen III of Cleveland said regionalism is on the threshold for the Delta with two organizations, the Delta Tourism Association and the Mississippi Delta Economic Developers Association.
“The Developers Association is mostly for marketing efforts,” Thigpen said. “We try to market the Delta. We have a call center consultant coming to speak to the regional group today. Still, it will come down to which town gets it.”
Thigpen has lived in Cleveland all his life and was in private business until two years ago when he became executive director of the Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Development Foundation. He says the stigma of the Delta is the biggest challenge faced for economic development.
“The perception of the area is the biggest thing,” he said. “If we can get people here, they see the changes and like it.”
Cleveland, home to Delta State University and a strong manufacturing, agriculture and retail base, is doing well. Downtown is thriving with retail, restaurants and a walking trail where the railroad track used to be. A railroad museum will open soon.
Baxter Healthcare has been a mainstay in Bolivar County and is the largest employer.
Hudson said existing industries are expanding in Clarksdale and Coahoma County. Companies such as Saf T Cart, Delta Wire, Cooper Tires and Standard Industrial are providing a good economic base and jobs.
“They locate here because of available workers,” he said. “We have good training through Coahoma Community College, and they can provide specific training for any industry.”
He also cites improvements to the area’s highway system, including the now-complete four-lane U.S. 61 and a bridge across the Mississippi River heading West within 20 miles. The four-lane project for Mississippi 6 from Clarksdale to Batesville will give Coahoma County a four-lane corridor to the east, all the way to Birmingham, Ala.
“We also retained a railroad here that’s owned by the county and operated by a short line company,” Hudson said. “Companies must lower costs to stay competitive, and a good transportation route is important.”
Hudson, executive director of the Clarksdale-Coahoma County Industrial Foundation for 16 years, said not having a super site is a drawback for the area.
“Not many communities have that kind of acreage, and they would have to make a decision to spend that kind of money to prepare a site,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.