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Magnolia State sees solid year of economic development

As 2007 winds down, it is clear that the state has enjoyed a solid year of economic development successes. Led by the coming of Toyota North America to Blue Springs, Mississippi has seen more new and expansion projects than it did in 2006.

One good tool to gauge the state’s economic development success is the Mississippi Development Authority’s (MDA’s) “Summary of New and Expanded Facilities.” The MDA gleans the information on the report from a variety of sources. The MDA stresses that the report is not comprehensive, but it does give a good indication where new businesses and expansions are occurring.

Manufacturing increases

The report’s numbers speak for themselves. From January-November 2006, the summary found there were 657 new and expanded facilities announced in Mississippi, which were expected to create an estimated 10,161 new jobs and an estimated capital investment of approximately $3.18 billion. From January-November 2007, there were fewer total facilities reported (519). However, they were expected to create an estimated 13,119 new and an estimated capital investment of approximately $6.47 billion.

In the non-manufacturing sector, the big-ticket items are mixed-use developments. Three of the top 20 largest new facilities are mixed-use projects — Galleria in Madison, Arbor Landing in Flowood and Pinnacle at Jackson Place in Jackson. These three projects alone have a combined estimated capital investment of approximately of $1.04 billion.

There was even better news in the manufacturing sector. From January-November 2007, there were 305 new and expanded manufacturing facilities announced, compared to 283 for the same period in 2006. And this year’s manufacturing facilities are expected to create an estimated 8,564 new jobs, compared to 2006’s 4,507, and the estimated capital investment is approximately $3.54 billion, compared to $602.02 million in 2006.

Certainly, Toyota led the pack. The plant at Blue Springs rings in at $1.52 billion, and is expected to create an estimated 2,000 new jobs. And Auto Parts Manufacturing Inc., a Toyota supplier, is building two new facilities, one at Hamilton and one at Fulton. Combined, the projects total $380 million and are projected to create an estimated 660 new jobs.

However, manufacturing successes can be found statewide. In Jones County, for example, the Howard Industrial Park in Ellisville is a $54.5-million project. And Howard Computers is in the midst of a $12-million expansion that is expected to create an estimated 150 new jobs.

“Manufacturing is alive and well in Jones County,” says Mitch Stennett, president of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County. “Contrary to national trends, we have seen strong growth in the manufacturing sector.”

Stennett adds that many of the county’s manufacturers are locally owned, and produce products that are not usually shipped in from elsewhere. Thus, it makes it much easier to plan and execute expansions due to lack of uncertainty and local decision-making.

Usual players

The report lists new and expanded facilities from practically all over the state. Of Mississippi’s 82 counties, only 12 did not record a new or expanded facility this year. There was certainly nothing surprising about the success of the tri-county region of Madison, Hinds and Rankin counties. Historically, they out-produce all others, and that has been the case in 2007, too. Combined, the three counties accounted for nearly a third (169 projects) of all the new and expanded facilities announced in the state.

The Coast took its usual place as second to Hinds-Rankin-Madison. The three coastal counties of Jackson, Harrison and Hancock combined for 51 new and expanded facilities this year. Harrison County recorded 27 new and expanded facilities, nearly displacing Madison County from third place.

The Golden Triangle, Pine Belt and Tupelo area, historically strong in terms of new and expanded facilities, have been solid again in 2007. Tupelo’s Lee County ranks fifth (21 projects), in new and expanded facilities. Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties in the Golden Triangle pulled in 13 facilities, and in the Pine Belt, Forrest and Jones counties alone saw 27 projects announced.

New faces

Some counties “sneaked” near the top of the list. One surprise is Pearl River County in South Mississippi. It ranked 18th on the list. The knee-jerk reaction would be that the county continues to see projects in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as businesses look to be near the Coast but somewhat out of harm’s way. However, Ron Fine, director of operations at Partners for Pearl River County, says that is not the case.

In fact, Fine says Katrina created a push-and-pull situation. In the storm’s immediate aftermath, dislocated individuals flocked to the county, a lot of them from New Orleans. (The county ranks in the top 10 in new homes of all the counties in the U.S.) However, he says the “pull” has begun as residents find jobs elsewhere and move out of the county.

Fine says the county’s success this year can be attributed to other more permanent factors. One coup was Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg purchasing Crosby Memorial Hospital in Picayune. That deal was announced back in 2006, but Forrest General is still finalizing plans to build a new facility near Picayune on a site to be determined. Fine says the project has attracted the attention of business and industry, particularly those offering healthcare products.

Another positive is the recent and continued expansion of activity at the Picayune Airport. Chevron/Texaco has built a terminal there, creating a hub for its helicopters that serve Gulf of Mexico oil and gas operations, and El Paso Corporation also maintains a fleet of helicopters there. The county is getting a grant from the FAA to build more helicopter ports at the airport.

Fine says the county’s numbers would be even better if it had more industrial sites to offer. The county’s board of supervisors has four new incoming members, and Fine is optimistic that the new members will look to be proactive in positioning the county for more success. And he has nothing but praise for the workforce development training offered by Pearl River Community College.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is Coahoma County. The Mississippi Delta as a whole has a strong presence on this year’s list, led by Coahoma County’s 10 projects. That ranks it 12th on the list, ahead of such historical heavy-hitters such as DeSoto County and Lafayette County.

The largest projects in the county, all expansions, are Standard Industrial Corporation in Clarksdale (approximately $2.28 million), Delta Oil Mill in Jonestown ($1.5 million) and Delta Wire Corporation in Clarksdale ($1 million).

Tana Vassel, economic development manager at the Coahoma County Chamber of Commerce and Industrial Foundation, says, “Obviously, we’re having an excellent year. We have seen a lot of cooperation from the county government and board of supervisors working with our cities and business and community leaders. We are excited, and expect more success in the future.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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