Lee County among job creation leaders

djournal-lee-countyBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Only four counties gained more jobs than Lee County in 2013, according to information provided to legislators on Thursday by state economist Darrin Webb.

Lee County added 1,052 jobs from January to November 2013. Eight counties in Northeast Mississippi were among the leaders in the number of net new jobs during that time frame.

David Rumbarger, chief executive officer of the Lee County-based Community Development Foundation, said his numbers match those presented by Webb.

“We have had one of the best years in our history,” he said. “You would have to go back to 1984-85 to find comparable numbers in terms of capital development and jobs creation.”

He said the job creations have been more the result of expansions than new businesses, but said two new companies for Lee County are expected to be announced in the coming weeks “that will really push us over the top.”

On the state level, Webb told legislators that during the January through November time period, Mississippi ranked 15th nationally in the percentage increase in new jobs at 1.71 percent compared to the national average of 1.6 percent. But on a negative note, Webb said Mississippi was eighth from the bottom during the same period in growth in wage and salaries at 0.79 percent compared with the national average of 1.9 percent.

Webb said the rate of income growth “is troublesome… We have not seen income growth from jobs that some other states have seen.”

Webb, giving an update on the state’s economy to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn and other legislators, said he fears many of the jobs created during the January-November 2013 time period were temporary in nature or part time. He said the state still trails most of the rest of the nation in the educational level of its workforce.

Thursday’s briefing was the second given by Webb to different groups of legislators this week on the Mississippi economy. Legislators normally hear from the state economist at the start of each session.

From January to November 2013, Webb said 18,818 jobs were created in Mississippi. DeSoto County led the way with 2,605 jobs while rural and normally impoverished Kemper was second with 1,684 jobs created. Webb cited the construction of the new Mississippi Power Co. plant there for the surge in jobs.

Hinds was third with 1,477 jobs created while Jackson County was fourth with 1,307 new jobs, followed by Lee.

In Northeast Mississippi, the counties adjoining Lee also did well with 874 jobs in Union, 307 in Pontotoc and 179 in Itawamba. Those five counties, including Lee, were among 24 in the state where more than 150 jobs were added.

In neighboring Monroe, 41 jobs were added. The other two counties that adjoin Lee had a loss in jobs – Chickasaw lost 214 while Prentiss lost 73.

Elsewhere in the region, Lafayette, Alcorn, Tishomingo and Oktibbeha also had a net gain of more than 150 jobs added while Marshall and Calhoun had a net loss of jobs.

Webb predicted the state would return to pre-recession level of jobs in late 2015. The peak just before the recession hit was 1.16 million in February 2008. In November, the state had 1.128 million jobs. The all-time high for jobs in the state was May 2000 when the total number was slightly higher than the February 2008 level.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com