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State winning during tough times as reacting to market is paying dividends

 

The recent announcement that the American Contract Bridge League was moving its headquarters from Memphis to Horn Lake gives a good example of how far-reaching, and how successful, the state’s efforts have been of late in recruiting and/or retaining jobs during the current recession.

The League’s relocation will bring 70 new jobs to the DeSoto County community, good news at any time, but something of a coup during the economic downturn. The move was made possible through incentives awarded by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) under Momentum Mississippi.

MDA executive director Gray Swoope points to this and other development wins, particularly in the retention and addition of manufacturing jobs, as validation for a recent agency-wide shift in focus.

“I hesitate to call it ‘new,’ since we have always been focused on job retention,” Swoope said. “However, I think this does reflect our reaction to the new market conditions.”

There have been other pluses this year in terms of attracting new businesses and jobs. For instance, Handy Hardware announced in February that it was going to construct a new distribution center in Meridian. This facility is expected to employ in excess of 150 workers.

Where the state has really shone, though, is in retention of manufacturing jobs. Late last year, MDA added veteran economic developer Chandler Russ as the new director for its Existing Industry and Business Division, and he and his team have hit the ground with a mission.

A good “snapshot” of economic development activity statewide is the MDA’s “New and Expanded Facilities Summary.” The MDA gleans the data from a number of sources, and stresses that it is not comprehensive. Still, it is the only report of its kind available.

Comparing January-April 2009 with January-April 2008, the recession definitely shows. There were 68 new and expanded facilities announced from January-April 2009 opposed to 96 during the same period in 2008. The number of estimated new jobs created was down almost a full 1,000, and the estimated capital investment was nearly $200 million under the period in 2008.

There is a pleasant surprise, though, when looking at expanded manufacturing facilities. There were 17 manufacturing expansions announced January-April 2009, compared to nine in January-April 2008. And there were a mere 234 estimated new jobs created by the expansions in 2008, compared to 912 during the same period this year.

These manufacturing expansions are led by ATK. In February, ATK announced it was expanding its Iuka operations, growing employment from less than 200 workers to approximately 800.

The only place the recession’s effects show in the manufacturing expansion numbers is the estimated capital investment. The nine manufacturing expansions from January 2008-April 2008 represented an estimated capital investment of approximately $546.54 million, compared to approximately $277.84 million during the same period this year.

Still, the state has a lot to crow about in manufacturing expansions. Swoope said the ATK deal is a classic example of how the market has forced a change in strategy. Roughly 20 states vied for ATK’s business, and the offer from at least one other state was higher than Mississippi’s package.

“It was quite amazing,” Swoope said. “We just had to go sell the state.”

Another area where the news is mainly positive is on the Coast and Hurricane Katrina recovery. Some recent happenings of note are:

n The Gulf Coast Renaissance Corporation unveiled a new, long-term stimulus-style program in April called MyHome MyCoast. The $80-million program, funded equally by Community Block Development Grant money administered by the state and funds from a select group of lending partners, looks to help boost the availability of affordable housing to those in Mississippi’s six southernmost counties who were displaced by Katrina or who have moved there since the storm.

n The MDA last month announced it was reallocating unused funding from the Housing Assistance Program, “spreading the wealth” to three other Katrina recovery programs — public housing, community revitalization and water/wastewater restoration programs. All together, these three programs are getting $51 million to “new” funding.

n The Bay St. Louis Harbor Project is underway. Using more than $13 million from the state’s Katrina recovery package, the new residential and commercial harbor is seen by many leaders as the key to the rehabilitation of Hancock County, which was “ground zero” of Katrina.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be ‘satisfied’ with Katrina recovery efforts, but I am proud of what has been accomplished,” Swoope said.

About Chris Elkins

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