Northeast Mississippi has struggled with double-digit unemployment for more than two years, and there's no question we've been through a tough patch. The struggle may not be over yet.
But last week, several positive indicators were in the news, and they demonstrate that there is an element of economic resiliency in this region that will help pull us out of the doldrums eventually.
We're an area that's heavily dependent on manufacturing. Two good bits of news on that front were the official dedication of the Winchester ammunition facility in Oxford, which will eventually employ 1,000, and the announcement by Toyota that it completed hiring of production workers for the first phase of production at its new Blue Springs plant.
Both of these companies will have a major impact on the economy of the region.
Winchester is a relatively recent development; the coming of Toyota, on the other hand, has been eagerly anticipated for nearly five years.
The automaker will have 1,500 people working by year's end, when it plans to be producing Corollas for the market, and 2,000 when it's at optimal production later. With suppliers in the mix, the ultimate impact is expected to be upwards of 4,000 jobs.
Adding new sectors vital
Even with the region's manufacturing mainstay for nearly half a century, the furniture industry, struggling to hold on to jobs, it's clear that manufacturing will remain a key component of Northeast Mississippi's job mix in the future. The addition of new manufacturing sectors like automotive is profoundly important in making that happen.
But there was good news on non-manufacturing fronts last week as well. Retail development has long been a key driver, especially in Tupelo and Lee County, and Belk's grand reopening after a $5 million renovation at The Mall at Barnes Crossing represents a strong vote of confidence in the market, as do mall store renovation and expansion undertaken by JC Penney and Reed's.
Tourism is growing in the region, and Tupelo's tourism tax showed a 5.8 percent increase at the end of the fiscal year over FY 2010.
These positives stand out in part because the landscape has been littered over the last three years or so with not-so-good news. But perspective is important, and while Northeast Mississippi isn't out of the woods yet, some of the news suggests we're clearing a trail.