Economic development activity continues in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties
Against the backdrop of a lingering recession, ongoing hurricane recovery and massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, economic development continued this year in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties.
“We have been quite fortunate with our resident industries at Port Bienville and Stennis Airpark,” said Jack Zink, executive director of the Hancock County Development Commission. “Many of the industries at the port produce raw material products, which are required in the production of various end products. They provide feed stock materials for domestic and international product producers, including filter media, plastic materials and polymers. These companies have been minimally affected by the economic downturn.”
As rebuilding of the county’s infrastructure is nearing completion, new facilities are coming out of the ground, which continue to provide employment opportunities in the construction industry.
The commission purchased 1,100 acres of land adjacent to the airport to facilitate future expansion of Stennis International Airport and completed design for a new air terminal, aircraft hanger, fuel farm relocation and ramp expansion. Construction is expected to begin in January. The airport served as the primary airport for the response to the BP oil crisis, seeing a dramatic increase in the number of flights.
An additional 3,000 feet of rail has been added at Port Bienville and 7,000 more is under construction. Rail activity to the industries there continues to increase.
“This increase in rail interchanges is a strong indicator of the health of the industries at Port Bienville,” Zink said. “The rail expansion is in support of existing rail dependent industries in the complex. Two of our industries there have completed the startup of additional product lines, adding to inbound and outbound activity.”
Working with Pearl River Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi, the commission sponsored a number of training programs designed for the county’s industries.
“Our business retention and expansion program continues to be a front-burner issue,” Zink noted. “Taking care of those industries is foundational to our program and very important. By assessing their needs, we can offer assistance with expansions and workforce training.”
A rebranding effort focused on better marketing of the organization’s function, capabilities and mission led to a new name, logo, website and marketing materials. Although still legally named the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, the organization now does business as the Hancock County Development Commission. The new website address is www.hcdc.ms.
“We are actively working new opportunities to expand and enhance our existing industries. The primary areas of interest are advanced materials, transportation and logistics, aerospace, green technology and defense-related industries,” Zink added.
In Harrison County, Larry Barnett says it appears the construction, restaurants, accommodations and retail sectors cut back on employees this year. “This is a result of Katrina, the recession and the oil spill,” he said. “The oil spill disaster could adversely affect tourism in coastal communities for up to three years. Tourism is dependent on travel and travel is a perception business. After a disaster, facts often take a backseat to fears and rumors.”
Barnett, executive director of the Harrison County Development Commission, reports a busy year with major activities. Those include startup of the expansion of Seaway Road, which will have four lanes connecting to Northrop Grumman’s Harrison County plant, the acquisition of 623 acres for the county’s sixth industrial park, the reopening of the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center with 400,000 square feet of additional space, the completion of the largest military family housing project in the history of the Air Force at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi and the completion of 80 percent of Long Beach’s Main Street revitalization.
“We are also pleased that the gaming company, Rotate Black, received a one-year site approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission for a casino in the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor,” he added. “Gulfport’s downtown revitalization continues with 88 building exteriors and restoration of the 1940’s streetscape.”
New businesses were added to the Promenade shopping center in D’Iberville and to Premium Outlets in Gulfport, and the Point Cadet Marina and Small Craft Harbor in Biloxi were refurbished. On the cultural side, several historical properties in Biloxi were restored, and the $36-million Frank Gehry-designed Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art opened.
The cumulative impacts of the recession in Jackson County have been much less severe than in most regions of the country, according to George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.
“This has been due in large measure to the manufacturing and industrial nature of our economy,” he said. “That is not to say that challenges don’t exist within our industrial, commercial or housing sectors — only that the strong diversified nature of our economy has provided a relative degree of stability.”
While Freeland doesn’t single out one event as the major part of economic development activities this year, he points out a collection of events that represented a culmination of project activity or in some cases an evolution of product lines.
“Those include economic development infrastructure improvement projects funded through Katrina Relief Community Development Block Grant programs that were completed and are now benefiting a broad range of industries such as shipbuilding and repair, petro chemical and aerospace,” he said.
Other highlights of the year were reaching the mid point of construction of the Gulf Liquid Natural Gas $2-billion facility, delivery of Northrop Grumman Aerospace’s first Global Hawk fuselage to the Air Force and a strong volume of cargo through the county’s port terminals.
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