Alliance leads to increased opportunity for local development

IMPROVING COPIAH’S CHANCES – Members of the executive committee of the Copiah County Economic Development District welcomed Duane O’Neill, right, president/CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, as guest speaker of last Wednesday’s meeting at Co-Lin. From left are James Mitchell, ex officio, Richard Stockett, president, Neil Honan, executive director, and O’Neill.

Even though Flora did not land the National Bio and Agro Defense Facility project from the federal government in 2008, the central Mississippi area – including Copiah County – got several looks from key economic developers at many levels during the process, according to Duane O’Neill, president/CEO of Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership.

O’Neill was the guest speaker at the quarterly luncheon of the board of trustees of the Copiah County Economic Development District last Wednesday. The meeting is faithfully held at the Thames Center at Co-Lin.

Copiah County is a member of the Greater Jackson Alliance, which is a segment of the Partnership. Six other counties are also in the umbrella of GJA: Hinds, Rankin, Madison, Warren, Simpson and Yazoo.

“You enjoy so many great benefits because of your supervisors’ investment in the Alliance,” O’Neill said. One of the main benefits is that economic developers and site consultants worldwide are now looking at regional alliances, instead of one industrial area, in which to relocate. Copiah’s membership aids in getting more looks from such companies, O’Neill explained.

Copiah’s inclusion in the Jackson DMA is another great benefit. Since the Jackson DMA includes over 500,000 population and a fairly large labor force – two big factors in determining project locations – the area is getting high consideration for future development, O’Neill explained.

During this time of business contraction, the Partnership is focusing more on the needs of its existing industries and preparing its partners to be ready when economic conditions begin improving. O’Neill said that now is a time to be focusing on improving our workforce, as well.

“We all must work together for an improved labor force. The developers out there are looking for a large pool of skilled workers when considering industrial sites,” O’Neill concluded.

The board heard from Neil Honan, the district’s executive director prior to the guest speaker. Honan reported that one industry from out of state has opened a

regional location in Crystal Springs, occupying an existing building at the corner of Hwy. 27 and Hwy. 51.

The company, Plant Peddlers, is a franchise that services the nurseries who send their products to Lowe’s and Home Depot. Plant Peddlers collects the portable plant racks after the big stores have placed the product on the shelves for sale, and transports the racks back to Crystal Springs. From there Easy Rack, the larger company, picks them up and transports the racks back to their headquarters in Missouri.

During peak season up to 18 part-time jobs could be created in addition to the two full time postions, Honan said.

“They will contract with local truck and trailer owners during the season. Those folks will be spending money in our economy that wasn’t there before,” Honan explained.

Honan quipped that, so far as he knew, he was the only economic development chief in the state to bring in jobs from out of state during the month of March.

“Hey, it’s a start,” he said.

In other matters relating to Honan, Richard Stockett, president of the board, reported that a previous deal with Honan to cut his status to part-time has been deferred. Honan will remain in a full-time capacity because “he’s been very busy and he feels much better,” Stockett said.

The greater board approved the minutes from the January meeting, as well as claims from January, February and March before adjourning until July.

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