Mississippi Delta profiting from high grain commodity prices

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Published: December 24,2007

As ag goes, so goes the economy of the Delta. Hence, high commodity prices this year for agriculture have translated into a major boost for the region’s economy.

“It was a strong year for agriculture with high commodity prices especially in the grain crops,” said Frank Howell, director of the Delta Council Development Department. “A lot of our producers experienced good yields in those crops. We are going into next year with continued strength in the grain commodities, and I think we will continue to see movement to those crops.”

As farmers have moved towards planting more grain crops because of high prices, there has been a big decrease in cotton planting. And all indications are that will happen again in the 2008 growing season.

“It is certainly great we have the high commodity prices in grain,” Howell said. “But continued movement away from cotton will have a negative effect on the cotton infrastructure that has been so critical to the economy of the Delta region. It is good and bad. So many people in the region derive their livelihood and income from agriculture, and cotton and rice have a lot of value-added infrastructure that supports jobs and the communities. While still recognizing the higher commodity prices are a good opportunity for producers, decreases in cotton acreage represent somewhat of a concern for the overall economy.”

Farm Bill renewal

Renewal of the Farm Bill is of utmost importance to the Delta and its economy. Howell said the renewal of the Farm Bill remains a high priority issue. As this issue was going to press, a $286-billion Farm Bill had passed the Senate expanding subsidies for wheat, soybeans, barley, oats and other crops, increasing money for conservation programs and adding grant programs for fruit and vegetable growers. But President George W. Bush had threatened to veto the legislation saying it cost too much and that subsidies should be reduced at a time of record-high commodity prices.

On the manufacturing front, the Delta has seen a strong year with existing employers across the region expanding and hiring more workers.

“Things have improved on the manufacturing front,” Howell said. “That has been a very good thing. We continue to focus a lot of our efforts on procuring a quality workforce, and we appreciate the work the governor and Legislature have done in making workforce training more accessible to employers. We are seeing the fruits of those efforts pay off. I feel confident of that just by looking at the companies that are utilizing those resources. We will continue to place a heavy emphasis on that.”

Viking Range in Greenwood continues to expand. Other existing manufacturers who have expanded adding infrastructure and employees this year include the French automotive supplier Faurecia in Cleveland, Molded Acoustic Products in Clarksdale and Uncle Ben’s in Greenville.

Greenville sees ‘huge investment’

Another big development in Greenville this year was the construction and opening of the $20-million Scott Biodiesel Refinery.

“That is a huge investment,” said Tommy Hart, executive director of the Economic Development District of Washington County.

Hart said other highlights of 2007 include a $1-million expansion at La-Z-Boy in Leland and a resurgence of tow boat construction and repair. Hart said demand for tow boats has increased so dramatically that companies in that business in Greenville now have a three- to five-year backlog of projects.

The area has also seen major investments in healthcare facilities in the area including a large expansion at Delta Regional Medical Center. And just recently a new casino, Harlow’s Casino Resort, opened adding a hotel with 105 rooms, a 2,500-seat entertainment center and 33,000 square feet of gaming space. The casino is designed in lavish old Hollywood style to reflect the Golden Age of Hollywood.

“Add the things I’ve mentioned together and you have a significant investment value that occurred in 2007 in Greenville and Washington County,” Hart said. “We also have had major expansions in our agricultural research facility with new science and growing facilities for them. Another new hotel began construction a few months ago.

“The final decision has been made on building a new federal court building in Greenville. That work will begin next year when a feasibility study is complete. We also have several new retail locations, a lot of that backfilling space that had been vacated by others.”

Another major highlight is work on the new U.S. 82 bridge over the Mississippi River. Hart said a lot of construction dollars for that project have been spent in the community. Next year, construction will continue, and work is expected to begin on a bypass.

This year, the former Industrial Foundation of Washington County changed its name to the Economic Development Foundation, which will contract industrial development activity to the newly formed Economic Development Center of Washington County. The center is still in organization stages, but is close to being launched.

New correction complex in Yazoo

The big news in Yazoo City is funding has been received to build a $280-million addition to the Federal Correction Complex in Yazoo City.

“That got us a step closer to expanding that facility, which is going to create hundreds more jobs for the area,” said Henry Cote, executive director, Yazoo County Development District. “With the expansion they will become a full-blown federal penitentiary. When we acquired property for that site for the initial facility, we acquired enough land to allow for a 100-year expansion so they have plenty of room to grow the facility. Also, the Mississippi Department of Corrections shows Yazoo County as the site for one of their regional correctional facilities. That is going to create an additional 50 to 75 new jobs.”

In 2007, construction began on a new Methodist Green House retirement facility on Grand Avenue. The Green House concept revolves around a facility built specifically for elders that creates a home atmosphere. And the King’s Daughters Hospital has finished a review of its facility, and is planning a capital campaign to build a new hospital.

“Another good thing is the county has agreed to purchase seven new fire trucks for our volunteer fire departments around the county,” Cote said.

Greenwood defying odds

Angela Curry, interim executive director of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation, said that Greenwood has been bucking the nationwide trend towards a slowing economy.

“Greenwood has managed to defy the odds,” Curry said. “We have seen our unemployment rate drop to single digits. This is certainly encouraging and can be attributed to our newest corporate citizen, Raybestos, reaching its peak employment and it can certainly be attributed to our strong existing industry base. We boast of Viking Range, Milwaukee Electric Tool and others who employ thousands of people in this community. They are the economic backbone of this community and it is so important that we nurture our existing business.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette4@cox.net.

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