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Hinds County Economic Development District working through tragedy

Organization dealing with loss

Before J.C. “Sonny” McDonald’s untimely death earlier this month, the Hinds County Economic Development District was churning out press releases almost daily about new and expanding industries taking root in metro Jackson. McDonald’s business savvy and economic development expertise was evident in the constant flurry of activity from the small, busy office. Even though the staff of the tri-county economic development organization is still in shock, business will continue as usual, said interim director Steven C. Hardin.

“It’s been a difficult time,” said Hardin, who previously served as director of business development for HCEDD. “We’re still stunned.”

On May 3, the board asked Hardin to serve as interim director of the five-employee district “until long-term decisions are made,” Hardin said. “There’s no time frame. At this point, we’re still so surprised. We’re trying to get our thought process together.”

According to reports, McDonald drove his vehicle, in which he left a note to his wife, to the Mississippi River Bridge in Vicksburg and jumped off. Hardin said authorities had not yet found his body “and I suspect they may not. It’s really tragic.”

A memorial service was held May 5.

Greg Barker, executive vice president of the Metropolitan Development Board in Birmingham, Ala., who previously worked with Hardin and is a Meridian native, said he was shocked to hear the news.

“From the time he was vice president of economic development for the chamber in Jackson, I always considered Sonny one of the real voices of reason in our business,” Barker said.

HCEDD’s marketing efforts for the remainder of the year will focus on the new 462-acre Wynndale Industrial Center on Interstate 55 south of Byram, a plan McDonald had set in motion to market extensively to manufacturers of light-gauge metal, Hardin said.

Construction work on the Wynndale Industrial Center had almost come to a halt after contractor Roxco Construction filed bankruptcy and HCEDD had to deal with the American Home Assurance Company, Roxco’s bonding company. When reporting the slowdown last year, McDonald was undeterred, adding “if someone is ready to come in, we would get it ready for them.”

Recent economic development activity for HCEDD includes:

• The groundbreaking of a new facility for Atlas Insulation at the Greater Jackson Industrial Center in Byram.

• The opening of Universal Forest Product’s only Mississippi operation at West Mayes Street in Jackson.

Universal Forest Products markets, manufactures and engineers products for DIY retail home centers, structural lumber products for the manufactured housing industry, engineered wood components for the site-built construction market, and specialty wood packaging for various industries.

The company spent $2 million to purchase and renovate an older facility, made marked improvements to the inner city area and opted to locate a facility in Jackson to “better service existing customers and expand our customer base in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana,” said Peter Boven, vice president of operations for UFPI’s southeast region.

“In 2000, UFPI announced it had added manufacturing capacity of engineered roof trusses and floor trusses to its existing facilities in Lodi, Ohio and Gordon, Pa.,” Boven said.

Universal Forest Products (Nasdaq: UFPI), which operates 75 facilities in 66 locations, had a record sales in 1999 of $1.44 billion, up 15.8% compared to 1998 with a 19.8% improvement in its net income during the same time period. Fortune ranked UFPI No. 1 in its industry group.

Also in 1999, the company opened new facilities in Texas, Tennessee and North Carolina and added new manufacturing lines to existing facilities in Massachusetts and Oregon, and opened a new and larger manufacturing and engineering facility in Michigan..

“This expansion (in Jackson) is a continuation of the company’s strategy to become the largest and only nationwide provider of engineered wood components in the U.S.,” said Boven.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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