Lawmakers: Highways may lead to industry

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2000

When Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck asked state Sen. Bob M. Dearing to head the Senate’s highways and transportation committee, he knew the appointment would make his constituents happy. &uot;I said, ‘Amy, I don’t think you could make the people I represent more happy than making me chairman of this committee,&uot; Dearing told the audience at Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce’s legislative luncheon Friday. That’s because Dearing, D-Natchez, believes completing the four-laning of U.S. 84 and U.S. 61 will help bring industry and jobs to Natchez.

Attracting industry was one of the main topics at the chamber’s annual lunch at the Ramada Inn Hilltop. Members of the community were invited to submit questions and ask questions at the luncheon. Local legislators were invited to speak.

Dearing said he wants make sure Adams County will soon see the completion of four-laning on U.S. 84 and the four-laning of U.S. 61 on a fast track. He believes the lack of a four-lane route into the county keeps some industries from locating here.

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&uot;It is a deterrent, there’s no doubt about it,&uot; Dearing said.

State Rep. Phillip West, D-Natchez, agreed that four-lane highways are needed to attract industry but said businesses need other incentives as well.

He plans to reintroduce legislation that would give businesses incentives to locate in Adams and surrounding counties.

For example, he said, a business investing $10 million in Adams County could get $1 million back from the state if the business guarantees at least 200 jobs at at least $9 an hour and a five-year commitment to the area.

&uot;I realize our region is the poorest region in the state statistically,&uot; he said. &uot;For Natchez and Adams County to grow we need to have livable job wages.&uot;

State Rep. Andrew Ketchings, R-Natchez, said he and his fellow Adams County legislators have met with state economic officials in the past to express concerns about the region.

&uot;We feel like we’ve been left out of the growth Mississippi has had in the last few years,&uot; he said.

Natchez resident Robert McGee asked legislators about the possibility of using the area’s forestry resources to attract furniture makers.

Legislators said efforts have been made to convince some of the furniture makers in north Mississippi to expand to the Adams County area.

&uot;So far there has not been any interest,&uot; Ketchings said.

In other topics discussed at the luncheon:

n West said he wants to focus on education, including looking at teacher raises and a review of schools’ zero tolerance policies on violence. West said he believes situations need to be looked at individually so that innocent students are not punished.

&uot;We’re sending conflicting signals to our children,&uot; he said. &uot;A kid gets penalized if they try to defend themselves.&uot;

n Dearing said he has filed a bill that would create a three-year bond program for state parks. The money, which would include $12 million to $14 million in the first year, could help pay for a group camp facility at the Natchez State Park, he said.

&uot;Hopefully we will get some more park money,&uot; he said.

n Ketchings said the Adams County delegation will also work toward getting $5 million for a fine arts building at Alcorn State University’s campus in Natchez.

Last year about $200,000 in funding was secured for preliminary studies for the building.

&uot;We’re all looking forward to that coming to fruition,&uot; Ketchings said.