EDITORIAL: Firm optimism

Northeast Mississippi’s economy hasn’t been immune to the pain of the nationwide recession, but unlike some other regions, prospects for recovery and new expansion are based on already implemented planning and action.
When Tupelo’s Development Services Department Director BJ Teel offered an optimistic long-range overview of the city’s housing market this week she based the forecast on reasonably anticipated growth anchored by the workforce hiring and 2011 opening of Toyota’s assembly plant near Blue Springs.
Even that potential sea change economic impact, however, won’t unfold overnight, so looking further ahead is realistic, as the experience in Georgetown, Ky., suggests.
Georgetown, home of the “mother plant” for Toyota’s Blue Springs campus, saw its greater expansion three to five years down the road, Community Development Foundation CEO David Rumbarger said Wednesday. He expects the same kind of economic unfolding in Northeast Mississippi.
Rumbarger said an “air of anticipation” is appropriate in looking toward and past the Toyota opening, but an immediate rush of results is not anticipated.
Rumbarger said, however, that he expects a growing market for the kind of housing identified as most necessary in the region for several years: three bedroom, two-bath family homes in the $150,000 range.
He, like Teel, said it’s reasonable to expect growth in permits for remodeling, expansion and other upgrades of existing housing as a stronger economy develops.
“Demand will drive where the opportunities develop,” Rumbarger said.
In the shorter term, Rumbarger said the region can expect more hiring decisions for the initial 1,350 positions at the Toyota plant in October, November and December this year.
In the longer term, Rumbarger said the impact of auto-related employment will deepen as Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers win contracts with Nissan in Canton and automakers in Alabama – like multiple-contract suppliers that help Alabama boast 140,000 auto-related jobs.
Rumbarger said in the longer term the impact of Toyota-related development should help push the annual population growth in Tupelo and Lee County from about 1.25 percent per year to possibly between 3 percent and 4 percent. DeSoto County, where Southaven is the largest city, by comparison has grown by about 4.8 percent per year during the past 10 years.
The slowdown in residential building and upgrades is not limited to Northeast Mississippi; the state as a whole dropped by about 5,000 units from 2008 to 2009.
The firm prospect of economic expansion, whether related to Toyota or other investments, will revive the housing market – single-family units and multi-family apartment complexes. Building for the market’s needs will help ensure success.

NEMS Daily Journal