The leading economic developers of the Golden Triangle give high marks to 2007 as they reflect on the year that’s coming to a close. Brenda Lathan, vice president of economic development for the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, Tim Climer, president of The Growth Alliance in West Point, and David Thornell, president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, say it’s been a good year.
Everything wasn’t good for West Point and Clay County, but this part of the Golden Triangle is staying upbeat. “The biggest thing obviously, and the biggest blow in the state for the last decade, was the closing of the Sara Lee plant with 1,200 jobs,” Climer said. “Sara Lee dominated the news but that’s not the whole story.”
He said the complete story is that the county is diversifying its economy, expanding existing industries, recruiting new ones and joining other counties in North Mississippi in recruiting automotive suppliers. The best news of the year is that 670 jobs were added by ING, a company that makes metal wraps for military vehicles being used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That’s fabulous for us and for the whole country,” Climer said. “This company went from 30 employees a short time ago to 670 employees.”
Ellis Steel and Blazon Tube expanded and added approximately 100 new jobs in Clay County, too.
Lathan said the PACCAR plant is the most exciting thing happening in Lowndes County. The parent company for Peterbuilt and Kenworth trucks broke ground in July and work is underway on the facility that will go into production in 2009. The plant will build engines for heavy trucks and expects to employ between 500 and 800 employees. The company donated $1 million to Mississippi State University (MSU) and an 18-wheeler truck to East Mississippi Community College for training.
“They took a 400-acre portion of the Crossroads Megasite right on Highway 82,” she said. “You can’t miss them. They have started hiring people and took some engineers and instructors from East Mississippi Community College to the Netherlands to train them.”
In other good news, SeverCorr announced its phase two expansion, a $500-million project that will employ an additional 300 workers. HN Steel and New Process Steel, two companies that will purchase steel from SeverCorr and cut it to meet the needs of their customers, are hoping to break ground soon. Aurora Flight Systems announced its second phase and expects to hire 200 more people.
“These expansions secure our economic base,” Lathan said. “We also are getting a $100-million mall, University Park, at the intersection of Highways 82 and 45 South midway between Columbus and Starkville, employing approximately 2,000 people.”
A new $10-million port facility, operated by Kinder Morgan, will open next month on the west bank of the Tombigbee Waterway. It will handle scrap and raw materials for SeverCorr.
“Other places tell us opportunities just keep coming once you get a steel mill,” Lathan said, “and we are seeing that happen.”
Not only is Starkville continuing to grow, it is growing in a variety of ways that keep the economy strong, according to Thornell. Residential housing permits increased 142% this year with permits for 1,200 single and multi-family units. Retail sales grew by 30% from where it was five years ago.
“Both of those increases are the strongest in the region,” he said. “We had 42 new and expanded retail businesses, creating 370 jobs. We noticed those by the record number of ribbon cuttings this year.”
He added that for the first time enrollment at MSU passed 17,000. That influx of young people along with the number of retirees moving to the area shows that all age groups are locating there. Additionally, Starkville voters passed a $26.5-million bond issue, the largest in the public school district’s history.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.