May 4, 2013 9:13:34 PM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Oktibbeha County economic developers say Starkville's high quality of life should position it to compete for the influx of Golden Triangle residents who will move here for employment at Clay County's incoming Yokohama Tire Corporation plant.
State, local and industrial leaders inked a deal earlier this week to bring a four-phase, $1.2 billion project to the county's Prairie Belt Powersite. Once the first portion of the plant is constructed in 2015, the company is expected to create at least 500 jobs for bus and truck tire manufacturing. The entire four-step project could create at least 2,000 jobs by 2023.
Local economic developers say the Golden Triangle LINK's success will not only help improve unemployment numbers in the area but also attract more workers to the area. Those workers have to live somewhere, and Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory says Starkville's high quality of life will make the city competitive in attracting new residents.
Out of all the employees at the Golden Triangle Industrial Park in Lowndes County, 50 percent lived in that county while 25 percent lived in Oktibbeha County, a 2012 LINK study states. The remaining percentage was divided up Clay County (11 percent) and outside of the Golden Triangle.
"There's a safe bet we'll see numbers similar to that study," said Joe Max Higgins, LINK CEO, in regard to the Yokohama development.
"Obviously this is a huge win for West Point, but it's also a huge opportunity for Starkville to really showcase the quality of life that we have to offer here, as well as the quality of our public school system, the restaurant and entertainment amenities we have and the fact we're only one of two (Southeastern Conference) towns in the state," Gregory said. "We feel like the variety we can offer in terms of entertainment, cultural, historic, heritage-based and athletic events really position us quite well to attract not only potential Yokohama executives, but also all other aspects of the labor force."
An increase of residents will boost ad valorem sales tax returns, the primary two ways cities collect money for services. Not only will Starkville compete for those residents, but also its businesses will compete for contractual services associated with the plant's construction.
The plant is expected to provide relief to the area's unemployment numbers. While the Mississippi Department of Employment Security reported a drop in joblessness rates, Lowndes and Clay counties remain above the state (8.7 percent) and national (7.6 percent) measurements.
Clay County's 18.2 percent unemployment rate for March represents the highest figure out of Mississippi's 82 counties, while Oktibbeha's number is the lowest reported in the tri-county area. It had previously been measured at 11.1 percent in January.
"Any success that we now have in any of the three counties means, in my book, that all three counties are successful. We're generating a lot of respect and notice by our neighbors in other states and other companies. Something good is going on here," Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority President Jack Wallace said. "We're trying to bring down the highest unemployment rate in the state, and there is no downside to that. I think this is just the beginning of a great success story."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch