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Regional approach a key factor in successful development

Clay County maintains more than 40% manufacturing jobs

West Point — Life is good in Clay County and in this prairie city that forms the top point of the area known as the Golden Triangle. It’s one of only six Mississippi counties that still has over 40% of its jobs in manufacturing.

“We are fortunate to keep existing industries and have close to 4,000 manufacturing jobs,” says West Point Mayor Kenny Dill. “That’s unusual today and represents a large payroll.”

As mayor of Clay County’s only incorporated city, he’s active in economic development. The city purchases electric power from the Tennessee Valley Authority and runs its own power system. He says that often puts him in the forefront with industrial prospects who want to know about utilities.

“I’m automatically involved, and we have good rates when companies compare industrial load prices,” he said. “We also use a regional approach with Columbus and Starkville and use TVA and the Mississippi Development Authority as resources. That’s one reason SteelCorr is looking at the TVA megasite in this area.”

Mayor since 1973, Dill says each community in the Golden Triangle has industrial property and buildings marketed through the state and TVA. Plus, all three cities participate in support of the Golden Triangle Airport, an important element of the area’s development.

He says his city is also attractive because of the quality of life. “We have a good, safe community and a lot of educational and cultural activities close at hand,” he said.

“The four-lane highway system means businesses can locate here and take advantage of things in other communities, serving the Tupelo and Columbus areas too.”

If a plant is located within 50 miles of West Point, it helps city and county residents. “That’s why we’re writing letters of support for SteelCorr,” Dill said.

Staying in touch with industry managers is also important in retaining existing industries. “If they have an issue, we will help with that,” he said. “We’re competing with other places over which plants to close and are in a constant battle to stay competitive.”

At one time, Clay County had several garment plants. Those closed but other manufacturing jobs have remained. Dill says that’s partly because the food business is not going to move offshore and the county has an accessible location with four-lane highways, railroad and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

The county’s largest employer, with 1,800 employees, is Bryan Foods, now a part of the Sara Lee Corporation. Babcock & Wilcox is the second-largest employer with more than 500 workers. According to Louis Campbell, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, the company is the only manufacturer of nuclear boilers left in the U.S. and is getting ready to expand.

“They’re undertaking a $10-million refurbishing and we feel like that’s a good sign they’re staying here,” she said.
She also cites Haas Outdoor as a local manufacturing success story. Toxey Haas, who grew up in West Point, started the company that makes Mossy Oak, a popular brand of camouflage clothing. Royal Trucking Company, started by Billy Millican, is another local success story and employs 205 people.
Artex International employs 180 people making tablecloths and napkins for hotels, churches and caterers. It also operates an outlet store there.

“These companies choose to stay here, and that makes us proud,” Campbell said. “We have diversification and stable jobs, so we’re holding our own.”

West Point cooperated with Starkville and Columbus to land the American Eurocopter plant located at the Golden Triangle Industrial Park. “It employs 50 to 100 people, and that will increase,” Campbell said. “It’s some kind of outfit. It’s real high tech and clean as a whistle. We’re trying to get that kind of industry.”

Mayor Dill points out that healthcare is growing, too. The local 100-bed hospital, owned by North Mississippi Medical Center, has grown from 70 employees to 330.

“We continue to look at new things, and right now all our hopes are high with SteelCorr,” he said. “It will make us more attractive to automakers, and we believe that making the water rise affects all boats.”

Campbell says agriculture remains important to the area. Cattle farming is big and a lot of soybeans are raised in the area’s famous black soil. Prairie Livestock, a feeder cattle supplier, employs 41 people.

Not forgotten, West Point’s downtown is still active. “Although there is not as much retail as we would like there, there are a lot of people living there and we’ve retained the post office, banks, library and utility offices there,” Dill said. “Bill-paying offices there keeps a lot of people coming and going in the area.”

The well-known Old Waverly Golf Club is a draw to Clay County and Campbell says it helps draw retirees. West Point is a certified retirement community and a participant in the Main Street Community Program.

“You have to have good quality of life to qualify for these programs,” she said. “We have beautiful parks, good schools, low crime rate and good property values. Having two universities close by really helps too.”

Both universities offer a wealth of cultural and sports programs and allow senior citizens to audit classes. The city’s arts council is also active in bringing in artistic entertainment. “It’s a pretty town where you know everybody. It’s just a good place to live,” she added.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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