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VOL. 129 | NO. 191 | Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Williams-Sonoma Growth Highlights DeSoto Push

By Amos Maki

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In 1999, Williams-Sonoma Inc. opened its first DeSoto County distribution center on Polk Lane in Olive Branch.

Over the years the company’s investment in DeSoto County grew and its workforce in Olive Branch swelled to around 600 employees. Last week the company said it would more than double its workforce in Olive Branch by adding 900 jobs, pushing total employment to around 1,500 once the expansion is complete.

Mississippi officials and local real estate experts said the Williams-Sonoma expansion highlights Northwest Mississippi’s nearly two-decade march to become the Memphis area’s prime industrial submarket, one driven by vision, planning and a business-friendly atmosphere.

“It’s nice when these projects that have been here for 10 or 15 years continue to express their confidence in the area,” said Jim Flanagan, president and CEO of the DeSoto Economic Development Council.

Williams-Sonoma helped jumpstart the industrial market in DeSoto County when it opened in 1999. Since then, dozens of companies big and small have leased millions of square feet of space.

Flanagan said state and local officials have worked hard over the years with companies like Williams-Sonoma to develop a climate of trust and partnership all while keeping their eyes on the prize, jobs and investment.

“It’s a testament to the pro-business climate elected officials and business leaders have created here in DeSoto County,” said Flanagan. “If they had not had good relationships with county, city and state governments they could move to other locations but they recognized they were productive and profitable here in DeSoto County.”

Williams-Sonoma’s 2 million-square-foot Olive Branch facility is now the center of the company’s distribution and logistics universe.

"Our distribution and transportation centers are the foundation of our worldwide supply chain,” said Williams-Sonoma Chief Operating Officer Dean Miller in a statement. “The expansion of this facility has enabled us to create hundreds of new job opportunities for the local economy, thereby making Olive Branch the largest distribution and fulfillment operation in our portfolio."

Kurt Nelson, the senior vice president for Hillwood Investment Properties who previously served as a senior vice president for IDI, both of which are heavily invested in DeSoto County, said DeSoto County has become the preferred location for developers and tenants because of lower taxes and the ease of doing business, including a simpler incentive process than the one provided in Memphis and Shelby County.

“The biggest driver of why the bigger companies are going to DeSoto County is the property taxes are lower and the process is easier,” said Nelson.

Hillwood is planning to grow its presence in Desoto County into a large new industrial complex, called Legacy Park, near Hacks Cross and Goodman roads.

“I live in Memphis and I want to see Memphis get more of these opportunities and there are still clients who want to be in Memphis and for who it makes sense to be in Memphis,” said Nelson. “We still think (DeSoto County) is the best place to be and that is the place our prospects and tenants we talk to want to be.”

Over the last six years more than 4 million square feet of speculative industrial space has been built, or is under construction, in DeSoto County while none was built in Memphis over the same period.

The Williams-Sonoma expansion was the second major distribution-related event in Northwest Mississippi in two days. On Wednesday, Sept. 24, Roxul Inc. opened a $160 million plant that makes, packages and distributes stone wool insulation in nearby Byhalia.

While the growth in Northwest Mississippi may appear on the surface to hurt Memphis and Shelby County, a closer look reveals it benefits the entire region, including the city and county, said Andy Cates, CEO and president of brokerage at Colliers International Memphis. Shelby County residents will get jobs in Mississippi and Mississippi residents will still come to Memphis and spend money on goods and services, spreading the wealth throughout the Memphis metro area

“I think we have a regionalized economy,” said Cates. “We're one big region and when the region succeeds we all succeed.”

PROPERTY SALES 23 23 1,365
MORTGAGES 21 21 1,068
BUILDING PERMITS 117 117 3,173