Communities tout industrial parks

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

Where others saw acres of pastureland, economic developers in Starkville saw a technological park. Now that park, a high-tech version of the old industrial park concept, is a flourishing industrial and research location. Tenants include computer call center Service Zone, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s customer service center and a number of research centers of nearby Mississippi State University.

&uot;That’s about 1,000 employees in all,&uot; said Marc McGee, vice president of properties for the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. That group developed the Mississippi Research and Technology Park.

Those figures do not include the 35 people who will be employed by a Viking Range research and development center. Site work for that center began late last week.

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That’s what a community can do when it has an industrial park equipped with convenient transportation routes, the necessary infrastructure and pleasant surroundings, according to those communities have such facilities.

Apart from a few industrial buildings throughout the area, Natchez-Adams has no industrial land &045; complete with the necessary infrastructure &045; that is ready to go if an industry is ready to locate here.

The closest thing to such a site would be the former Belwood Country Club site at the Natchez-Adams County Port.

But the 125-acre site lies so low that a ring levee would have to be built around the site to make it usable by most industries, reducing the usable portion to 75 to 80 acres.

Michael Ferdinand, who directs the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority, has said the EDA is seeking a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help establish an industrial park.

The Mississippi Development Authority can help put communities looking to develop such parks in contact with consultants and funding sources, said MDA Director of Communications Sherry Vance.

But today’s successful industrial park does not look or function exactly like the smokestack locations of the past and takes much time and work to develop, said economic developers interviewed this week.

Take Starkville’s technological park, for example. The Starkville Chamber of Commerce and Mississippi State began discussing the idea in the early 1980s.

&uot;That’s been the key, that partnership&uot; with the university, McGee said. &uot;The park needs something to feed off of, Š and Mississippi State is ranked 57th in the nation in research and development expenditures.&uot;

By 1984, the parties had reached an agreement for MSU to sell a 218-acre dairy farm to the Economic Development Authority for $523,000.

Infrastructure and a business incubator building were developed by the EDA in Starkville through grants and proceeds from a city-county bond issue.

&uot;Even then, only half (of the property) was developed at the time,&uot; McGee said &045; that is, until 1996, when a diagnostic instrumentation laboratory opened in the other half of the park.

The park itself is owned by the EDA, which puts lease proceeds back into its operational budget.

When developing the park, the EDA &uot;put in utilities, water, sewerage, roads, things like that,&uot; said McGee, who worked in the office of MSU’s vice president of research until joining the Partnership earlier this year.

&uot;But we also worked on the aesthetics out here &045; landscaping the flowerbeds, planting trees in the medians &045; and that contributes greatly to the quality of life,&uot; McGee said.

Mitch Stennett, executive director of the Jones County Economic Development Authority, agreed aesthetics are key to being competitive with parks throughout the nation.

&uot;At the same time, you also have to have the right infrastructure,&uot; said Stennett, whose organization has developed a technological park in recent years.

&uot;For these (high-tech) companies, that means broadband Internet capability as well as water and sewer,&uot; he said.

In 1999, a review by a consulting firm revealed that while Jones County had 1,000 acres left in five industrial parks, most were older parks without the amenities needed by high-tech companies.

&uot;At about the same time, Howard Industries (which already had a Laurel location) decided to start a computer division,&uot; Stennett said.

The EDA and Mississippi Power searched for a site within 150 miles of Laurel and found that 104 acres of flat pasture land adjacent to Interstate 59 fit the bill.

The land was bought, and the infrastructure installed, with a $5 million Mississippi Business Investment Act loan to Jones County.

A bonus: the land is adjacent to an existing industrial park that is being marketed more to heavy industry than tech-related businesses.

&uot;When we market these together, they’ll fit a variety of clients,&uot; Stennett said.

The park, which is now 90 percent complete, already has two anchor businesses &045; a Jones County Community College technology center and the Howard computer plant.

&uot;We just let the landscaping contract and should be complete by the end of the summer,&uot; Stennett said.

He admitted that the Jones County EDA is taking some pages out of Starkville’s book &045; namely, borrowing the protective covenants used at Starkville’s park.

In addition, Stennett said his organization is always looking for ways to partner with Jones County Community College.

That college’s advanced technology center, located at the technological park, is a center for electronics, geographical information systems for agricultural uses, and information technology.

Meanwhile, Starkville is researching its next move, since its technological park only has one more available lot and is landlocked by MSU and a highway.

&uot;We’re working to determine what we’re going to do next,&uot; McGee said.