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National developers have eyes on Metropolitan Statistical Areas

The state’s five metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), based on the 2000 U.S. census, continue to benefit from that designation. Three of those MSAs are in South Mississippi, one is centered around the Capital City and the fifth is based in Memphis, Tenn. According to the Census Bureau, 17 of the state’s 82 counties are classified as metropolitan. Those counties had 42% of the state’s total population in the 2000 census but that percentage increased to 43%, based on a July 2006 estimate.

Having an MSA designation may not mean a lot in certain employment sectors, but it does carry weight when retail and commercial businesses make location decisions, according to Benjie Barham, director of business development for the Hinds County Economic Development District.

“It means a lot for cities and counties,” he said. “Certain national retailers will not go into an area less than 50,000 people. A city may not be able to get them on their own population, but being part of an MSA helps them get investment into the community.”

Barham and Angie Godwin of Hattiesburg agree that being part of an MSA puts communities in a category to be more competitive and on more national radar screens.

“When doing site selections, some companies only look at MSAs,” said Godwin, executive director of the Area Development Partnership for Forrest, Lamar and Perry counties. “That’s the first cut criteria. They look at the workforce and other criteria of the MSAs. We recruited Bearing Point, and I think being part of an MSA was definitely a factor.”

She added that information and data profiles of communities in MSAs are much sharper and have more tracking ability. “That helps most companies on the front end. They know there’s a certain critical mass in that community,” she said.

Barham cites the Bass Pro Shop at Pearl, which he thinks was helped by the location being part of the state’s largest MSA. “The location might not turn many heads alone, but it gets in the door with the larger metropolitan population,” he said. “That’s one more selling point for economic developers and elected officials when marketing communities. The more MSAs we have, the better for Mississippi.”

Sue Wright sees George County’s inclusion in the Pascagoula MSA as a positive thing. “It strengthens our marketing efforts, and we have used it quite effectively for proposals,” she said.

Wright, who’s executive director of the George County Economic Development Foundation in Lucedale, added that the area’s geographic position is also a plus.

“To be positioned between Mobile and Gulfport-Biloxi gives us a lot of strength and credibility to companies thinking of investing in our community,” she said. “When retail, industry and service businesses do their own research, we show up in their searches. We get looks we wouldn’t get otherwise.”

Inquiries about George County are up because it is part of the Pascagoula MSA, she believes. “Our location is good and getting better,” she said. “We have rail and highway transportation and education facilities nearby.”

Godwin points out that in terms of population, the three MSAs in South Mississippi have grown since the 2000 census, according to 2006 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“All the MSAs in South Mississippi had significant population growth,” she said. “Ours (Hattiesburg) grew about 6.5%, Pascagoula grew 4.4% and Gulfport-Biloxi grew 3.7%. We’re really in good shape in Hattiesburg, and we see an increasing quality of activity we’re attracting. That’s important to us.”

MSA designations are determined by a formula used by the federal Office of Management and Budget. It includes using U.S Census Bureau population figures and pulling metropolitan areas together based on a population nucleus, joined with adjacent communities that have a high degree of social and economic integration with that core. There are 361 MSAs in the United States.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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