By DENNIS SEID / Daily Journal

The county, which has the third-lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.8 percent, has seen once-empty buildings filled in recent years. That’s a good problem to have, and presents an opportunity to the city and county to have a ready-made site for the next prospect.

“Most of our sites in our industrial park settings in New Albany and Union County are full,” said Gary Chandler, director of industrial development fro Three Rivers Planning and Development District. “This community is growing … since 2010 and 2018, the population has grown 5.4 percent, which represents about 1,500 people. We’re doing well.”

The building, which should be complete in about six months, is a public-private partnership between the city, county and Enhance Mississippi.

“We as a board of supervisors, along with our partners, have worked hard over the last few years to get to this point,” said Union County supervisor Dave Kitchens. “We have filled our empty buildings and put manufacturers on empty sites. Today, most of our buildings are full land we don’t have anything to offer to a prospective manufacturer, and we have limited green field space as well.”

Without any marketable sites to show, it became crucial to find a solution.

“In today’s hyper-competitive climate, manufacturers want more than raw land,” Kitchens said. “They don’t want to locate and look at a soybean field. They want developed product … they expect prepared land, roads and infrastructure in place.”

Union County and New Albany has a strong furniture manufacturing presence, having been the home of furniture pioneer Morris Futorian. It also has become the home of Diversity-Vuteq, a first-tier automotive supplier for Toyota Mississippi in nearby Blue Springs.

The new shell building will help attract others to the Martintown Industrial Park, which is divided into north and south parcels. Four additional sites are available in the north part behind the Walmart Distribution Center that can accommodate buildings from 120,000 to 200,000 square feet.

In addition, construction has started on a new industrial access road that stretches across Martintown North Industrial Park from Mississippi Highway 30 to County Road 54. The work is being funded by state and federal grants totaling $1.2 million. Construction should be finished by the end of the year.

The Mississippi Development Authority also has provided a $200,000 grant to install a 12-inch water main that parallels the new access road.

Kitchens said three years ago at Martintown South, officials developed plans to have a pad-ready site ready for manufacturing. Local funds of some $600,000 helped match MDA and ARC funds to help complete a 200,000-square-foot pad that opened last summer.

Enhance Mississippi is using that pad to build the 100,000-square foot shell building. Its investment amount was not disclosed.

“This is a fine example of the public sector working with the private sector to help move our county forward,” Kitchens said. “Without Enhance Mississippi’s interest and commitment, we wouldn’t be here today to break ground on this building.”

V.M. Cleveland, the owner and chairman of Tupelo Furniture Market, is one of the partners in Enhance Mississippi. He said the idea behind the group of investors that includes private citizens and community banks was to find and build more and better projects.

“Our goals was to invest in projects to help stimulate economic development in north Mississippi and create jobs,” he said. “This group allows us as a private group to work with public entities to get the job done.

It is the group’s first major project, with the building part of a 35-acre site that is ready for further development. Cleveland said the building can be expanded to 400,000-square-feet if needed. Enhance is already looking for a second site in the region, he added.

“We need to develop more industrial project to be competitive in today’s 21st-century hyper-competitive environment,” Chandler said. “This building will put us in a position where we can compete for projects we would not have been able to without having a shell building.”