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I-59 Tech Corridor still a player

Perhaps talk about the I-59 Technology Corridor has decreased, but the high-tech companies along the South Mississippi interstate are still going strong and new entities have set up shop. Thus, area economic development organizations are still touting it to prospects.

“We still use (the I-59 Tech Corridor) in our marketing, and so does the Area Development Partnership (ADP),” said Mitch Stennett, president of the Economic Development Authority of Jones County (EDA). “Our hope is that the Corridor is yet to see its finest day.”

Seeing a niche

Stennett was one of the developers of the I-59 Tech Corridor concept back in the early part of this decade. He noted all of the high-tech companies operating along Interstate 59, the higher education opportunities and the surrounding major markets, and thought perhaps the area could be marketed as something of a “Silicon Valley South.”

Along a 168-mile stretch between Meridian/Lauderdale County and Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, more than 400 companies are in operation employing 11,000 employees, according to the ADP in Hattiesburg. A sampling of these businesses includes Peavey Electronics, Hybrid Plastics, Howard Industries, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Rexel.

The Corridor is also served well by higher education. The University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi State University-Meridian, Jones County Junior College, Pearl River Community College, Meridian Community College, William Carey University as well as the Center for Higher Learning at Stennis are all located along the Corridor.

In addition, the area is sandwiched between major markets such as Jackson, Mobile and Birmingham, Ala., and New Orleans, with excellent infrastructure connecting these markets to the corridor.

Stennett and Gray Swoope, who was then executive director of the ADP and is now head of the Mississippi Development Authority, hammered out the preliminaries, and the Corridor was off and running.

Stennett and Swoope took the concept to Hal Walters, then with the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, and Wade Jones, president of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation in Meridian.

Both Walters and Jones fully supported the concept. For reinforcement, an outside consulting firm was brought in to do an analysis of the region, and found that the project indeed had merit.

A marketing campaign, developed by Rick Bice of Bice Advertising Inc. in Hattiesburg, launched in the fall of 2003.

The Corridor project caught not only prospects’ eyes, but also others, such as the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA). In 2007, MTA presented the John I. Rucker Community Technology Leadership Award to the EDA, partly on the strength of the I-59 Tech Corridor’s success.

Busy times

Stennett said the I-59 Tech Corridor is far from dead. He said economic development organizations up and down the Corridor simply have not had the time to sit down and “take it to the next level.”

That is not to say that the Corridor is seeing a lack of activity. In fact, the Corridor’s high-tech offerings have grown significantly as of late. A few of the highlights are:
• Peavey Electronics in Meridian made some serious noise during the Summer Olympics in Beijing. It supplied the sound equipment for many of the venues, including the Beijing National Stadium where the opening ceremony was held. In addition, Peavey launched numerous new products in the summer that are garnering much attention.

In October, Howard Technology Park in Ellisville was the first site to be named “Project Ready” under a new site selection.

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

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