HED:Crowds convene at CommerceFest 2000

AUTHOR: PERILL

HED:Crowds convene at CommerceFest 2000

By Gary Perilloux

Daily Journal

More than 80 businesses greeted thousands of customers Friday at CommerceFest 2000, where The Alliance of Corinth and Alcorn County also saluted the industrial companies that comprise half the county’s payroll.

CommerceFest 2000, the third annual exposition for area businesses, moved to the new Crossroads Arena at Harper Road and U.S. Highway 45 for the first time this year.

“It’s a nice event,” said Jimmy White of Bell Gas Inc. “It gives a lot of people ideas about what we have and it gives them a lot of insight some people think we’re just a propane dealer.

“And we find out about all the other businesses here, too.”

Bell Gas, located on Waldron Street in Corinth, supplies natural and propane gas as well as gas appliances for the kitchen, fireplace, bath and living rooms. A variety of gas grills and water heaters are also staples of the more than 100-year-old business.

“If it’s made for a gas product, we have it,” White said. “A lot of people go for gas now. Because if your power goes out, you’re out of luck (with electricity).”

Industries also shared their stories with the public. Caterpillar, which employs 600 in Corinth and 200 in Booneville, found children playing with toy versions of trucks and heavy equipment Cats at its booth.

“Our engines are in millions of trucks on the road,” said Lisha Hopper, Caterpillar’s public affairs manager. “There have been plenty of folks looking at the toy Caterpillars.”

The Corinth Caterpillar plant remanufactures diesel engines, crankshafts and other heavy engine components. In Booneville, the company produces fuel pumps, water pumps and other smaller engine components.

“We came to support the event,” Hopper said. “And we also want to let the community know that we’re here.”

Industry salute

At noon, The Alliance saluted Caterpillar and the other industries that fuel the bulk of the greater Alcorn County economy.

“(50.2) percent of the annual wages in Alcorn County are attributable to manufacturing,” said Jimmy Fisher, chairman of The Alliance’s Economic Development Council. “That is really something to be proud of.”

Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, addressed participants at The Alliance’s existing industry appreciation luncheon. Alcorn County and Mississippi have an abundance of success stories to tout, Wilson said.

Viking Corp. makes state-of-the-art ranges praised by Martha Stewart in a 900-employee plant in Greenwood, where the company moved from California.

“Guess what?” Wilson said. “The quality wasn’t good enough (in California).”

To move Mississippi into the national business spotlight, industry and the Legislature must work together to raise educational standards and tell their success stories, he said.

“We’re trying to convey the sense of community you’ve got in Alcorn County and carry it statewide,” Wilson said. “We think Mississippi is really poised to become the next jewel in the crown of the South.”

The MEC, which bills itself as the state’s chamber of commerce, this year instituted a CapitoLink fax system that links 6,000 members of its business community for nearly instant feedback on legislative issues that affect business, industry and the welfare of the state.

“This gives you a link to influence the future of the state all over this state,” Wilson said. “We’re going to try to turn this into an economic development tool and tell positive stories (about) what’s happening all over this state.

“This is a great opportunity, but we’ve got to get everybody singing off the same page.”

Alliance President Charles Gulotta told the luncheon crowd that manufacturing employs 5,280 people in Alcorn County at an annual payroll of $158 million.

“We’re a strong manufacturing community,” he said. “Your personal involvement and personal commitment to community development in Alcorn County are very, very important.”