Annexation positions city for industrial, tech dev

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Published: July 12,2004

Ellisville — In December 2003, this small city between Laurel and Hattiesburg annexed surrounding land that increased its size by 40% and brought into the city limits Howard Tech Park, Tech Park South, the part of Jones County Junior College (JCJC) not already in Ellisville and the Ellisville State School.

That addition of land put Ellisville in the position of becoming one of the state’s leading industrial and technology centers in the next few years.

The Howard transformer plant annex that is expected to be completed in Tech Park South in the second quarter of 2005 will employ 400 to 500 people. Other tenants already operating there include Hudson’s Inc. and Max Robertson Construction.
When its transformer plant is finished, Howard will begin construction on its new computer plant in Howard Tech Park.

Other plants are then expected to locate in the park. It’s estimated that within five years of the computer plant’s opening, the Tech Park will have some 5,000 employees.

The annexation also makes Ellisville an impressive institutional center.
The Ellisville State School, with 1,550 employees, is the second largest employer in Jones County. (Howard Industries is first.) JCJC has some 5,000 students, plus faculty and staff.

Almost all of the annexed land is industrial, technical or institutional, according to Ellisville Mayor Tim Waldrup.

“Only about 20 people live in the annexed areas,” Waldrup said. “The annexation wasn’t important for immediate residential growth but for the growth of the business sector in the near future and the tax base a few years later.”

That tax future for Ellisville, with Howard Tech Park, will be 10 years because, as an inducement, Howard was given a 10-year tax dispensation. The Howard transformer plant under construction in Tech Park South also received a tax dispensation.

Founded in 1817, Ellisville became the county seat when Jones County was created in 1826. The little town was getting along, mainly on a rudimentary lumber industry, when land formerly owned by the Choctaws in northern Mississippi was declared open for settlement and a large portion of the Jones County population moved to the newly opened area.

Ellisville recovered by the time of the Civil War, which the majority of the county’s inhabitant’s opposed. During the war, a band of deserters from the Confederate Army raided farms, fought Confederate troops and, though a number were caught and hanged, the band was never defeated.
The years between 1890 and 1910 brought prosperity to Ellisville, then came a steady decline as one new industry after another located in the newly settled town of Laurel, seven miles north.

Over the following decades, Ellisville was home to a cotton mill and a Nehi bottling plant, and JCJC and the State School were located nearby. But its population was never more than a few thousand.

Then, in the 1980s, an entire block of businesses on Front Street burned down. The block has since been rebuilt.
And now, Ellisville awaits its future.

Actually, the city isn’t just waiting, but working steadily to be ready. Extensive work is being done on upgrading Ellisville’s water and sewer system.

“We’ve been doing the groundwork for some time,” Waldrup said. “We’re preparing for the future.”

That preparation began when Howard Tech Park’s infrastructure was being constructed and the park’s new systems were extended to connect to Ellisville’s.

“They all wanted the city’s fire protection, too,” the mayor said.

And, although only a handful of new residents were brought into the city limits with the annexation, Waldrup indicated that there’s “a good bit of building going on now, in Ellisville and out. And there’s 80 apartment units now being built in Ellisville.”

Waldrup doesn’t see Ellisville as a retail hub in the future, attracting Lowe’s, Office Depot and Wal-Mart, because the city is so close to Laurel and Hattiesburg. But he does envision his city as a major center of commerce, industry and technology.

Jan Malone, owner of the Hotel Alice in downtown Ellisville, said that she thinks the new annexation is, “Great. It will help downtown, help us get new customers.”
Malone added that, already, there are “a whole lot of new housing starts in the area.”

Just as Mayor Waldrup is concerned with the long-range tax aspects of the annexation and such annex-related matters as expanded water and sewer lines, Malone is concerned with Ellisville’s downtown business area.

“We have a unique downtown,” Malone said. “Lots of times, towns have to try and to rebuild their downtowns — such as Hattiesburg and Laurel. But ours never really deteriorated, and now we can build ours up and keep it strong and viable.”
Malone said that she believes that the old businesses, the old downtown and the new businesses can exist together.

“As far as retail businesses, we all have a uniqueness, the old and the new,” she said. “And the new can’t have a 100-year-old business, can’t have that trusted pharmacist, whose family has owned the pharmacy for generations.”

She was talking about Ward’s Pharmacy, which is more than 100 years old and has been owned for three generations by the Red family. Ward’s still has the original counter top at its soda fountain and businessmen still gather there for morning coffee, as they have for decades.

Malone and her husband bought the Alice Hotel in 1999, renovated it and, in 2000, they opened the hotel, as well as a café and gift shop. It’s now the centerpiece of a revitalized downtown Ellisville.

Ellisville is becoming known as a destination, Malone said, and added that people today don’t just want to shop, they want an adventure. Malone said that the Ellisville Merchants Association (EMA) tries to give them an experience, with special events, which include entertainment and the antique shops and other stores staying open late.

In late June, the EMA sponsored the First Annual Antique Fair. Next, the EMA will start First Friday Night (of each month) with stores open, entertainment and dinner served at the Hotel Alice.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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