BY JOE BUCK COATES
At this point, the issue over the punting of the nearly half million dollar CDBG grant to improve the Hazlehurst Industrial Park by the City of Hazlehurst is moot. The decision last Tuesday made by mayor Henry Banks to veto the board’s vote of 3-2 to provide the matching funds–which probably would’ve ran around $30,000–to execute the grant was alleviated by swift action by the Copiah County Board of Supervisors in a recessed meeting on Friday.
Read ‘Mayor exercises veto on industrial project’ on the front page to make your own conclusions about the action taken by Banks. The bottom line is his decision nearly ran a good business and an established industrial partner out of town, costing jobs and costing the city tax dollars. Contrary to the mayor’s statements at last Tuesday’s board meeting, the city does benefit directly from CCI’s operations through sales taxes paid by those who work inside the business and those who do business in Hazlehurst as a result of CCI’s presence here.
The writing on the wall is the city of Hazlehurst has emphatically said through recent actions that it doesn’t want to be in the industrial park/economic development business, and, at this point, certainly shouldn’t be. The perceived rude approach towards developers of the old Walmart building during recent city board meetings by some city officials also reinforces this fact. Whatever action needs to be taken by the city and county to make the transition to the county’s operation of the Hazlehurst Industrial Park needs to be taken seriously and quickly.
Back to the supervisors . . .Several key players in local economic development, and a handful of tenacious and progressive private citizens and local business owners, swung into action to ensure the grant was not relinquished. And, what a good thing it is for the economic present and future of Hazlehurst and Copiah County, especially the unemployment part. Official statistics show that a little over 10% of Copiah County residents in the labor pool are unemployed at this time.
The CDBG grant and match by the county to pave and improve the road in the park in short, opens up a world of possibilities for new industrial prospects that would not materialize without the grant package. At the very least, it gives Hazlehurst and Copiah County a chance to bring in new industries.
The other result is that, CCI, an industry that located to the park in 2007, will invest $300,000 to $400,000 to expand operations, increase volume and–most importantly–provide an estimated 25 new jobs. Many of those jobs will pay better-than-average wages. All of the jobs will increase sales taxes coming to the city by virtue of monies spent with local restaurants, hotels, gas stations, retail and service providers. For those seeking work, the news is great and provides true hope.
The truth of the entire issue is that economic development means job creation–a statement that I’ve heard CCEDD director Neil Honan make many times during such types of projects and at any number of meetings. Copiah County’s Board of Supervisors, the CCEDD, the state of Mississippi and host of local business owners and other stakeholders believe as much and have proven that a nominal investment in job creation is crucial to the present and future of Copiah County, especially when grant money is involved.