Climate, Community, and Quality of Life

Climate, Community, and Quality of Life
Written by Claire Suttles

Hinds County, Mississippi is quickly gaining attention for its business opportunities and low cost of living. An increasing number of companies are moving down to take advantage of this winning combination – and discovering a wealth of amenities and entertainment options as well.
Friendly locals help pull newcomers right into the action. “It is really easy to connect if you want to be involved in anything, whether it is sports or ballet or some kind of civic activity,” says Curnis Upkins III, Director of Business Development for Hinds County Economic Development Authority. “People welcome you with open arms.” Adds Authority Executive Director Blake Wallace, “It is that old fashioned southern hospitality we are famous for.”

In addition to a low cost of doing business, Hinds County offers an all-around business friendly atmosphere. This tone is set at the state level by a legislature eager to bolster the business sector. “The overall business climate in the state at the governmental level is very pro-business,” Mr. Wallace reports. Businesses looking to grow, startup or relocate can all take advantage of this pro-business climate. “The tax incentives and other support are geared toward not only expanding our existing businesses, but also bringing in new businesses as well.”

The state has generous incentive criteria in order to reach a greater variety of businesses. For example, “if you are a small, healthcare-related business and you employ 25 people, that makes you eligible for the same incentives that manufacturers get,” Mr. Upkins explains. “And if you employ less than 25 people but invest $10 million in your healthcare-related business, you still remain eligible for incentives such as tax abatements. For certain projects you can get pretty much anything that manufacturers are privy to in the state.”

Incoming or expanding businesses will also find a qualified workforce backed by a strong work ethic. “We were able to start recruiting companies nationally because they saw that our labor force was a good one,” Mr. Wallace recalls. “They saw that our labor force showed up to work and that they could learn very quickly because of the technical skills that they had learned in the ag industry. They were easily able to adapt to working with [new] machinery when they came into the factories.” In addition, with nine institutions of higher learning in Hinds County, the local workforce has plenty of opportunity for education and workforce development.

A wide variety of industries have chosen to operate in Hinds County to enjoy its many advantages. “We have a mixed bag,” says Mr. Upkins. Distribution and warehousing is an ideal fit due to Hinds County’s convenient location. “We are located in an area where the transportation network – air, interstate, and rail – is highly developed,” Mr. Wallace points out. “We also have a Mississippi River port just 38 miles away and we have major ports along the Gulf Coast that are a couple hours’ [drive away].” The region is well suited to manufacturing as well. “We have any type of manufacturing, from metals fabrication all the way through to the aerospace industry, where highly skilled engineers are the ones doing the work,” Mr. Wallace shares. The high tech manufacturing sector draws support from several local institutions including the Mississippi Polymer Institute at the University of Southern Mississippi, the engineering program at Jackson State and the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS), an extension of Mississippi State University.

Home to the state capital, Jackson, “we are also the center for retail trade in the area, the center for education, and the center for government,” Mr. Wallace points out. Hinds County is naturally the state’s hub for R&D and healthcare as well. There are 13 hospital systems in the area including a major teaching and research center, a Department of Veterans Affairs facility, a state psychiatric hospital, and ten private, non-profit institutions. The government has crafted incentives that are specially geared toward bringing in additional healthcare sector businesses, including medical device manufacturers.

Armed with a state-of-the-art fiber optic network and superior distribution capabilities, Hinds County hosts back office operations for a number of national companies, such as Hudson’s Bay Company. “Their entire inventory movements for all their warehouses across the country, their payroll, and their website orders are based here,” Mr. Wallace reports. “If you order anything at any Saks store throughout the country it is processed through their operations center here in Jackson.”

Hinds County boasts a wealth of cultural opportunities as well as business opportunities. The Mississippi Delta birthed the blues, and Hinds County enjoys a long and storied history around this genre. “There was a big impact here on the music industry,” Mr. Wallace remarks. “We still have a lot of people very involved with that industry. It is still a big part of our economy.”

The blues are just the beginning of Hinds County’s involvement in American history. “We had two of the most pivotal things in our nation’s history happen in our area,” Mr. Upkins points out. “We were one of the epicenters of the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement.” A new Civil Rights museum is being built in Jackson to honor the contributions that the region made to the struggle. “That will house a lot of memorabilia from that time, a lot of history.”

Hinds County also boasts art museums, a professional ballet, opera companies, a symphony orchestra and a theatre that hosts world-class performers including the National Ballet. Local colleges and universities provide a number of cultural events and opportunities as well. As the state’s urban center, the area has plenty of nightlife, dining, and retail, and hipsters flock to Jackson’s eclectic Fondren district. “It has everything you need, from organic food and local cuisine to cultural amenities,” Mr. Wallace remarks.

Sports fans enjoy football games at local universities as well as minor league baseball games played by Jackson’s local team, the Mississippi Braves. Hunting is also a popular local pastime. A nearby reservoir provides an opportunity for water sports and fishing. A flood control project will soon create another large body of water just outside of Jackson that will be ideal for recreation. “There are going to be a lot of things around that project that are going to make people want to come here as tourists [or] to live,” Mr. Wallace predicts.

Hinds County also boasts leading schools. “We have some of the top ranking educational systems in the state.” There are also top-notch private schools such as St. Andrews, which ranks among the best private schools in the nation and is a feeder school to the Ivy League. “There are great educational opportunities,” Mr. Wallace remarks.

A range of housing opportunities allows residents to choose a location that best suits their personality. “You have urbanized living as well as suburban living as well as rural living,” Mr. Wallace points out. “Almost any area that you would like to live in, we will have.” Housing prices are remarkably affordable with the average selling price of a home in the Greater Jackson area being just $163,000.

The community is working to increase urban housing options to capitalize on the desires of young professionals. “The trend is for people to move back into urbanized areas, especially young people, so there are a lot of projects going on downtown that are converting office buildings to residential/office/retail,” Mr. Wallace reports. “In edgy places like Fondren, we have building after building that are being renovated to multiuse. That is going to continue to draw people in.”

Plans to increase Jackson’s amenities will continue for several years as local leaders work to put the city back on the map. “Ten years out, I think that our capital city will be like a lot of the other capital cities in the country, with a very vibrant downtown area, where young people as well as retired people will be living in close proximity to each other and enjoying all the amenities that are offered,” Mr. Wallace predicts. “We see ourselves being a destination location.”



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