VOL. 130 | NO. 62 | Tuesday, March 31, 2015
North Mississippi Boom Means More Changes
By Bill Dries
North Mississippi’s ongoing economic development boom is one side of the still-changing face of regionalism according to the mayors of Hernando and Southaven as well as the CEO of the power company that serves north Mississippi.
“Olive Branch has changed in every way imaginable right now,” Northcentral Electric Power Association CEO Kevin Doddridge said on the WKNO TV program Behind The Headlines. “The city center has shifted geographically. We are no longer what you would call a city of solely commuters. It’s a self-supporting city.”
And Doddridge said the Interstate 269 extension and construction that is fueling much of the manufacturing and distribution growth in North Mississippi will do the same for West Tennessee, including Memphis, when the interstate links Tennessee with Arkansas.
“Really the development is a far-reaching regional approach,” he said.
The program, hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com
Hernando Mayor Chip Johnson sees more corporate headquarters and class A office space along Interstate 269 in his city.
He acknowledges the regional approach mixes competition with cooperation.
“But we understand this is a regional plan,” he added. “If Memphis fails, we all fail.”
Southaven Mayor Darren Musselwhite cites the draw of Tanger Outlet shopping center in his city, which is expected to draw tourists from a six-state area.
The shopping center, under construction at Church Road and Interstate 55, also was a unique financing deal in terms of the incentives.
Before Musselwhite was elected, city and state leaders had settled on tax increment financing involving property tax abatements. But by the time the deal was done on his watch as mayor and ground was broken March 13, the state came to the table with a tourism rebate. It amounts to 30 percent of the total project cost that comes back to the developer as sales tax revenues comes in.
Musselwhite termed it “a rare situation” that won’t be available in the future because the Mississippi legislature has repealed the option.
Johnson said Hernando offers personal property tax exemptions and sometimes real property tax exemptions.
“But we are not exempting everything,” he added, saying the Mississippi Development Authority has usually played the larger role in offering incentives. But Johnson said the incentives aren’t what is behind the boom in North Mississippi. It’s the availability of land and workforce training programs and the quality of the workforce, a mix of North Mississippi and Memphis residents.
Southaven became a city in 1980. Hernando has been incorporated since 1836. But Hernando’s explosive growth followed Southaven’s.
“So we had the luxury of seeing what happened in Southaven and we were able to get our zoning in place and our comprehensive plan in place before the big boom came,” Johnson said.
Nevertheless he describes the main Interstate 55 exit at Commerce Street as “a mess.”
And Johnson said DeSoto County as a whole needs more attention from the Mississippi legislature in the way of road funding. He points to the county making up half of the state’s population growth between the 2000 and 2010 U.S. Census counts.
“We need to be putting up almost half the road dollars up there,” he said of DeSoto County, “you would think just to keep up with that growth.”
Musselwhite already is bending ears in the legislature about the Church Road and Interstate 55 interchange.
“You get excited about a good development but with that comes (traffic problems),” he said. “It’s a good problem to have but nonetheless, it’s a problem. It’s already a problem there.”
The growth will continue to change the cities, said Doddridge, who pointed to future shifts of logistics and distribution areas that have redefined Olive Branch.
“In the future as we have to confront air quality standards and the like, it may make more sense to push some of the heavy industry,” he said. “Maybe push it to the east in Marshall County or something like that. But we can all still take advantage of the mix.”