January 3, 2012 12:25:00 PM
After a successful year of retail growth and high-tech job expansion, Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jon Maynard has high hopes for 2012.
The Partnership added 30 new members in 2011 and expects to grow its membership base, currently 400 local businesses and industries, with more restaurants and shops.
Satellite organizations -- the Starkville Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau and Starkville Main Street Association -- led furious marketing campaigns this year and capitalized on increased traffic from Mississippi State University's home football game weekends.
The Partnership hosted a charrette team from Mississippi Main Street Association, which provided marketing and branding strategies and helped Starkville form a comprehensive plan to revitalize downtown. The brand "Mississippi's College Town" appears on T-shirts, websites and every social network message the Partnership sends.
"We will step up marketing in the area in the new year and plan to do more intense marketing for economic development and tourism," Maynard said. "We do intend to continue with design and growth of our community based on what the charrette has given us."
High-tech job growth is the Partnership's mission because of Mississippi State's research funding and the industry already in place at the Thad Cochran Technology, Research and Economic Development Park off Highway 182.
In 2011, laser optics manufacturer II-VI Inc. added 100 jobs and expanded its facility in the research park. Semi-South, a silicon carbide semiconductor lab at the research park, added 70 jobs after California-based tech company Power Integrations invested $30 million in the company.
"We have a good tech cluster here," Maynard said.
Maynard said plans to construct a new road on the north end of the research park will add another 52 acres of business space. Additionally, Maynard hopes to announce plans for new high-tech companies in the park in 2012.
Companies also have another location to consider at the Starkville Cornerstone Park, a 227-acre commercial and industrial center that borders Highway 25 and is adjacent to Highway 12 on the edge of western Starkville.
"Cornerstone is pretty well set," Maynard said. "We need to have more businesses in there. We're reserving that for the types of businesses to fit our target markets -- research for aerospace and automotive technology."
Maynard admits the Partnership's approach to job growth might not have the same luster as attracting 400-500 factory jobs, similar to expansion in Lowndes County, because of Oktibbeha County's limited space and infrastructure. But Maynard contends Starkville and Oktibbeha County is a premier place for many Lowndes County employees to live, making the Partnership's Main Street and tourism efforts valuable.
Maynard said Starkville's approach, known as "economic gardening," puts greater focus on retaining jobs and expanding existing industry.
"MSU has been graduating engineers for decades but they've been going to work in other states," Maynard said. "We're working to grow tech jobs so that those very valuable alumni can work here. That's the direction we're heading. It doesn't involve huge plants and job counts, but they're high-paying jobs that really reflect what we're doing in the 21st century."
But how are the Partnership's job-creation efforts perceived?
Maynard said his biggest challenge in 2012 will be to manage expectations. He stresses that though bigger industry may set up shop in Lowndes County, industries don't see county lines, they survey an area and rate school systems, housing markets and roads.
"I think people are starting to see a clearer path with where we want to go," Maynard said. "I feel very strongly that we've gotten to a point in our development that we can actively market what we're doing. The relationships we have built with our stakeholders as well as the infrastructure for being able to get things done, it's all in place."
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