Local leaders hope crystal ball shows new jobs for area

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 11, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Whether through multi-county task forces or improving infrastructure, economic development is the number one priority for local governments in 2003, said city and county leaders.

Such efforts, they said, will be essential to creating more jobs &045; and therefore, a better standard of living &045; for the whole area.

Perhaps it’s no wonder that they speak about industry in such fervent tones, given recent years’ headlines. Johns Manville announced in September that it would close, leaving 121 hourly and 17 salaried employees out of work.

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Titan Tire scaled its plant down to 12 people in April 2000 and hasn’t restarted production. Ethyl Petroleum Additives, with 40 employees, closed in spring 2001.

&uot;We’ve got to do something substantial this year to get jobs,&uot; said David Massey, Natchez alderman and mayor pro tem. &uot;We’ve got to be bullish in the upcoming year in utilizing every resource we can toward that goal.&uot;

With that in mind, the city and Adams County are planning to start &045; and, in some cases, finish &045; a variety of projects this year that they hope will boost the local economy.

One essential step, said county Board of Supervisors President Lynwood Easterling, will be to start meeting on a regular basis with officials from surrounding counties.

Those counties would include Wilkinson, Amite, Franklin and Jefferson, said supervisors Vice President Darryl Grennell.

The purpose would be to brainstorm incentives to entice new industry to the area and to locate land for a &uot;super site&uot; &045; preferably furnished with a building &045; or an industrial park the counties could share.

Super sites are large, convenient properties &045; typically, 1,200 to 1,500 acres &045; that can be used to attract major industries. If an area does not have such site, it is usually passed over as a possible location of such an industry, according to state economic developers.

&uot;Right now, if a company wants to locate on 900 acres, we’ve got nothing to show them,&uot; Easterling said.

Even if an industry located in another southwest Mississippi county instead of Adams County, Adams County would still reap some economic benefits, county officials have said.

Another priority is working with Natchez-Adams County Chamber of Commerce officials to organize a trip by local leaders to Washington, D.C., to lobby the state’s congressional delegation.

Their mission? To secure any incentives or other help they can get to attract industries to the area. In fact, chamber and other local leaders met Friday to discuss plans for such a trip, although no date has been set, Massey said.

&uot;When (representatives from) all facets of the city can go and are unified on their goals for the community, it certainly makes more of a point to our leaders in Washington,&uot; Massey said.

On the state level, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove last month pledged to make funding available for a study to determine the economic needs &045; and marketable strengths &045; of southwest Mississippi, Grennell noted.

Local officials have to visit existing industries regularly in the next year to keep apprised of their financial situation and to offer their support.

&uot;We have to do more visits,&uot; Grennell said. &uot;We don’t want to end up with another Johns Manville.&uot;

He did note that the Chamber of Commerce has started a series of community tours to industries and other institutions in the community &045; tours he said have even thought longtime leaders a thing or two.

Keeping good relationships with site selectors, such as those at Entergy and other utility companies, and with other companies who work closely with industries, such as the railroads, will also be crucial in 2003, Easterling said.

But he said that the real key will be continuing a good working relationship with the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, which largely heads local economic development efforts.

The state Department of Transportation, the Mississippi Development Authority and the city and county are jointly funding $1.926 million in improvements to Government Fleet Road.

That road connects the Natchez-Adams Port to the city’s major transportation arteries. It will include widening the road from 22 feet to 26 feet, straightening severe curves and installing storm drains. A new road will also be built to nearby Joiner Street Extension.

Site work on the project began in October, and actually construction of the road will probably start by summer, said City Engineer David Gardner.

The county is also exploring the possibility of improving other roads that lead to the port’s bulk loading facility.

Also, the U.S. Corps of Engineers notified city officials last week that a feasibility study has been funded for a possible slack water port at the former Belwood Country Club site on the Mississippi River, said Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith.

As it is now planned, a channel would be cut to divert St. Catherine’s Creek to the south of the 75-acre Belwood site.

The slack water port &045; so named because it is located along a part of the river with little current &045; would be located along the old creek channel. Such a site could be used to attract new industries, Smith said.