Monroe County grew during tough economy

By Rex Wilgus/Monroe Journal

AMORY – Despite difficult economic times in the wake of the financial meltdown in 2008 and the ensuing recession, Monroe County managed to weather the storm.
“To have 600 new jobs created in 30 months just following a severe recession and with a sluggish nationwide economy is pretty good,” said Tony Green, executive director of the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce.
According to Chamber figures, 603 new jobs have been created or committed, 1,258 jobs have been retained, $4.1 million in grants have been awarded and 10 projects have resulted in more than $211 million in capital investment.
For a non-metropolitan area, those numbers are reassuring.
In addition, Green said, there have been no plant closures. Five once-vacant industrial buildings have been filled with new companies and expansions during the past 24 months.
“We only have two marketable industrial buildings left in the county, Burris Building at Prairie, which has 440,000 square feet, and the old Caye Home Furnishings building, with 102,000 square feet on Glenn Drive in Amory.”
Also, Green added, companies like Eutaw Construction and United Furniture also have had excellent employment growth during this time.
“We need to realize that we have been very fortunate when compared to our neighboring counties, in that we have come through a major downturn in the economy with no plant closures, we have major employers at or above their pre-recession employment totals and there have been 700 to 800 new jobs created by Monroe County companies.”
The Chamber has been instrumental in the creation and retention of many of those jobs as well in aggressively going after grant money.
A conduit for help
“We’re not claiming credit,” Green said, “we’re just the conduit to assist these companies.”
He said there is strong competition for new projects, but Monroe County is well positioned.
“We may hit a home run once in a while because we have the waterway and the railroad,” he said. “We have a chance at large projects.”
About 85 percent of the new jobs have been created by existing industry within Monroe County, like Tronox, Georgia Gulf, Gilmore Memorial Hospital and United Furniture, Green said.
“We hope to get a Toyota opportunity,” Green said, noting that once Toyota ramps up operation, more suppliers will begin to set up shop in Northeast Mississippi. That offers an opportunity for some of them to locate in Monroe County, which is relatively near the automaker’s Blue Springs plant in Union County.
“Most large projects are looking for existing buildings to locate themselves in,” Green says. “Northeast Mississippi has at least 70 vacant industrial buildings. It’s a cost thing for potential companies. They don’t want the upfront costs of owning a building.”
Although the recession brought plant closures in Northeast Mississippi, there were none in Monroe County.
“We’ve been lucky,” Green says. While there were some layoffs, many of those have been rehired.
“I want people to realize that we need to be positive about these numbers,” Green said. “The industrial base has grown. We’ve added new jobs during challenging times. We’re thankful for the commitment they’ve made.
“Not everyone understands what economic development is all about, but when you visit a town that doesn’t have economic development, well, you can tell.
“If we’re putting more people to work, they’ll have money to spend. We’re helping people to obtain jobs and keep jobs in Monroe County.”