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March 28, 2012 10:03:07 AM
Bill Fruth is an economic forecaster, statistician and consultant, who analyzes local economies. He is in town this week talking to us about ours. His numbers tell us one thing we already know: By any measure, Joe Higgins, in his eight years as head of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, has amassed an impressive string of economic successes.
Policom Corp., Fruth's company, ranks micropolitan areas for economic strength (A micropolitan comprises one or more counties with an urban area between 10,000 and 50,000 population) and the Columbus MS Micropolitan has jumped from 374th out of 576 in 2004, the year after Higgins' arrival, to 57th in 2011.
The Link hired Fruth's company to create a set of attainable, though aggressive goals that would allow a continued rise in the rankings. The study sets job creation and wage goals for 2012 through 2025. Fruth presented his study in a series of meetings over several days. The 36-page document, full of charts and tables of figures, contains a lot of common sense information along with the good news that Lowndes County, under Higgins' leadership, is doing a lot of things right and is in an excellent position to continue its impressive economic assent.
A local economy will expand or decline in direct proportion to the amount of money being imported into the area, says Fruth. Industry and businesses that sell their products and services outside the area are importers of wealth. Other businesses are consumptive, that is to say they redistribute wealth but do not increase it. More growth in imported money, more financial prosperity, argues Fruth, is good for all.
Manufacturing is responsible for about 40 percent of the county's imported wealth, followed by entitlements (Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Welfare) at 25 percent and military at 24 percent, Fruth reports.
By funding its economic development program, developing large tracts of property for industrial development and creating links with education resources, Lowndes County is in position to become one of the strongest local economies in the United States, he says.
Big impediments to industrial growth, says Fruth, are government interference (Fruth said it takes 18 months to get a building permit in his home county of Martin County, Fla.), zoning restrictions, little developable land and opposition by environmental activists, who, according to Fruth, have not been a factor in Lowndes County.
Fruth's study, too extensive to do justice here, is logical, easily understood and full of interesting and insightful information about the local economy. We encourage you to read it and commend the Link for commissioning it.