Community leaders in Brookhaven and Lincoln County cheered earlier this month when they participated in the long-anticipated groundbreaking ceremony for the Linbrook Industrial and Business Center.
The milestone, also celebrated by Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, and a host of other officials attending the groundbreaking ceremony, represented the culmination of eight years of locating, purchasing and preparing to build a new first-class industrial park in Southwest Mississippi.
“Linbrook will be Southwest Mississippi’s premiere industrial and business center,” said Cliff Brumfield, executive vice president of Brookhaven Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and Lincoln County Industrial Development Foundation (IDF). “Infrastructure is being installed with an eye for the targeted industries sought to locate there. Strict covenants are being implemented and will be enforced. Cooperation through the Southwest Mississippi Partnership (the regional economic development consortium) is also a major player in seeking future inhabitants for the park. Brookhaven and Lincoln County have accepted the challenge of doing their part for prosperity, and the community stands ready to continuing to strive to make Linbrook a success for southwest Mississippi.”
In 1998, a private fundraising campaign, The Vision Partnership, was formed by the chamber to raise funds as seed money for the project. Working together, the local business community raised more than $600,000 for the new park. Additional funds were obtained through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a study to locate the best acreage for the new park, along with identifying key factors to be considered for target marketing and infrastructure needs.
Several tracts of land were identified as candidates for the new park, and successful negotiations with landowners allowed community leaders to acquire the first site choice in July 2005. Lincoln County and the City of Brookhaven supplemented $500,000 of the money raised by The Vision Partnership.
In 2006, the Brookhaven Lincoln Economic Development Alliance, a public-private partnership of the city, county, chamber and IDF, which was charged with purchasing the land and developing it, obtained a $1.1-million grant from EDA for infrastructure developments. The city and county also floated bond issues for $2.3 million each, providing for a total of $5.7 million for roads, water, sewer improvements, and a new one-million gallon elevated water tower and deep water well.
“Money is always the biggest challenge to any project,” said Bill Sones, who has chaired the IDF for three years and is president of the Bank of Brookhaven. “We had great cooperation between our city, county, chamber and private citizens to overcome this.”
Brumfield agreed. “The cooperation between the local governing bodies and the chamber and IDF has proven to be a very successful effort in this project,” he noted. “In fact, Linbrook has brought all four cooperating entities closer together, which has paid off in other dividends for the local community.
“One must keep in mind that Brookhaven is a small community, and this was a tremendous undertaking. Rather than wait for the entire project to be publicly funded, private business, citizens and local government bonded together and moved forward, pulling up their boot straps and taking responsibility for their future.”
Michael Jinks, chairman of the Alliance and the city clerk for Brookhaven, said he could not remember any decision concerning the Linbrook project that was not fully supported by the board.
“I believe the greatest challenge we’ve faced with this project has been the waiting,” he said. “From the time the study was done to determine the best site for the new business park to finally beginning to get this project underway has covered many years.”
Tim Mood, vice president of economic development for the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, said Brookhaven and Lincoln County have always managed to have strong local leadership, period.
“Look at some of the individuals in the past that have contributed to the local economic development process: Charleigh Ford, Doug Sullivan, Tillmon Bishop, Bill Sones, Chandler Russ and many others,” he said. “That excellence continues today with Mayor Massengill and Cliff Brumfield, a pro-business board of supervisors and IDF board carrying the torch.”
Mood said Lincoln County leaders simply recognized the dire need for a new industrial park because they had run out of land in the existing industrial park.
“The new business cycle is that prospective companies cannot wait on land development, and available sites must be ‘shovel ready’ with all infrastructure in place ready to go,” he said. “When your community does not have this, the chances for recruiting new industry are extremely difficult if not impossible when other communities are stepping up and making the investments that are necessary to be competitive. You quite simply can’t market your community to industrialists if you don’t do these things to be ready.”
Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill said construction should begin immediately. “Having this business park located just off of Interstate 55 with phases I and II of infrastructure to be completed in early 2009 will put Brookhaven and Lincoln County back in the industrial recruitment business,” he said.
Lincoln County is positioning itself to continue to be competitive for future industrial development projects, said Mood.
“Lincoln County already has the quality of life, quality labor force, training mechanisms, schools, interstate location, rail and now, once again, developed industrial park property,” he pointed out.
Linbrook’s importance is incalculable, added Sones.
“Thirty-five percent of our county’s total wages are derived from our existing industrial parks, and we serve all of Southwest Mississippi with jobs,” he said. “Linbrook will help furnish jobs for the next generation of growth in our multi-county area.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.