Tishomingo County’s quest for good jobs at one of the best industrial sites in Mississippi took a long, winding and sometimes disappointing road, but growing private-sector employment at the Tri-State Commerce Park takes the sting out of two monumental government pullbacks.
Five firms have or soon will have operations in Tri-State: ATK-Alliant Techsystems, Miltec Missiles amp& Space Co., Waterway, Inc., Morris Custom Millwork, and Gamp&G Steel of Russellville, Ala. They employ about 300 people, but the total is on the verge of increasing.
ATK announced in February it will increase its Tri-State operations to manufacture structures for commercial aircraft – 600 additional jobs over the next eight years, added to the 176 employed now.
Gamp&G Steel expects to employ 30 initially, with prospects for 110 jobs.
Plus, if pending state legislation passes, plans are expected to move forward for a $300 million resort on Bay Springs Lake in the southern part of the county on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.
As a matter of historical note, the industrial park, which encompasses 1,100 acres on land above the Yellow Creek embayment on the Tennessee River near the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, was supposed to be the site for 1) the Yellow Creek Nuclear Plant in TVA’s electric power system, and 2) the site for manufacturing the Advanced Solid Rocket Motor for NASA and the space program.
TVA backed out of the nuclear plant because its debt was soaring and it felt it could not justify the Yellow Creek plant under the power-consumption climate and economics of the late 1970s and early 1980s. A massive concrete skeleton of what might have been remains on site.
In 1988, thanks in large measure to the legislative skill and clout of the late U.S. Rep. Jamie Whitten, chair of the Appropriations Committee, Yellow Creek was chosen as the site to build the ASRM. In a double win for Mississippi, it would have been tested at the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.
The project, despite criticism of rising costs, seemed to be the great opportunity the whole region had sought. Scores of Lockheed-Aerojet engineers and managers moved to the region from Sunnyvale, near Sacramento, Calif., and a major main operations building was completed and the first work started. It would have been a $3 billion-plus undertaking.
Then, a confluence of events stopped the project dead in its tracks: Whitten’s health failed, and he effectively lost control of the Appropriations Committee.
ASRM opponents immediately sought to starve the project’s funding, and it came to a screeching halt in 1993 when NASA canceled production on the rocket motor. NASA then announced it would use the site for rocket motor nozzle manufacturing with Thiokol Corporation, later Cordant Technologies. But that project died, too.
Soon after, Tishomingo County and the state began asserting themselves about the future of Yellow Creek, and the land eventually was returned to Tishomingo County.
A focus by the county’s leadership and the state on private-sector development – although some of the firms depend largely on major government contracts – is paying off in attracting jobs.
In addition, long-sought four-lane highways – U.S. 72 through Iuka and U.S. 45 in nearby Corinth – are assets not available in the 1970s or 1980s. The planned four-laning of Highway 25 to connect with points southward to Jackson will complete the highway grid needed to fully market the industrial park and the hoped-for resort.
Economic expansion is never easy for a rural county in a rural region. Tishomingo countians have been disappointed, but to their credit they have not stopped trying.
The recession and an internationally challenged economy won’t make progress easier, but determination and location together will attract attention and customers in the long term.