Located in south-central Mississippi, Simpson County is full of potential and is primed for development. With the advantages of location, spectacular assets and a great quality of life, Simpson County, through the efforts of entities like the Simpson County Development Foundation (SCDF), is marketing, promoting and capitalizing on its untapped potential.
Simpson County’s great standard of life and wellbeing makes it a great place to be for residents and businesses alike, and the SCDF is working hard to help people make dreams a reality. Residents and visitors can hunt, fish, boat, canoe, hike and enjoy the area’s scenic nature, bountiful trails and meandering rivers and lakes of the county’s quaint and inviting charm.
This is a rural community with a population of just over 27,000 people. Its municipalities include Braxton, D’Lo, Magee, and Mendenhall (the county seat). Other active, though unincorporated communities include Harrisville and Pinola. Simpson County is only approximately thirty-five miles south of the state capital of Jackson.
With access to all of the necessary services and amenities that one would need to live a full life, Simpson County offers the best of urban and rural. It is also near Hattiesburg which means the city of Magee can draw from a market of over 800,000 people within a fifty-mile radius that represents twenty-eight percent of the state’s population.
The county gains great advantage from being only two hours away from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Logistically speaking, Simpson County has direct access to U.S. Highway 49 and is a short forty-five-minute drive to Interstates 20, 55 and 59. Mississippi’s International airport is equally close, and Canadian National Railroad runs through the county. It has solid distribution routes as a result of its extensive transportation infrastructure, with access to highway, air and rail.
“We are right in the heart of Mississippi,” stated Donnie Caughman, executive director with the SCDF. “We’re just south of the capital city and north of the university town Hattiesburg. Hattiesburg is both the railway hub and the interstate hub of Mississippi.”
Since 1979, the SCDF has marketed and promoted Simpson County and its many assets and has provided a great deal of support for economic and community development by taking the lead on initiatives that help to reinforce the life enjoyment and attract new opportunities to the county.
“The main objective, of course, was to recruit business and industry and encourage commerce in the county and to focus on the retention of what we already had here in the community,” said Caughman of the SCDF.
This is a private foundation that is funded by its membership and serves both an economic and community development function. In addition, the SCDF works in contractual partnership with the Simpson County Economic Development District. It works to find balance between economic and social growth for the benefit of businesses and residents. Each year, the SCDF hosts events to foster business development and support entrepreneurial spirit in the county.
The SCDF is proactive and works closely with its area partners to nurture development and a business-friendly climate while attracting business. It identifies new opportunities and creates strategies to maximize the benefit of investments and job creation within the community.
There are several grant and incentive programs available for businesses that are looking to expand or relocate to the area. This is just one of the ways in which the SCDF endeavors to attract additional jobs and investment to the county. “Of course, it’s based on the nature of the industry locating: job creation, payroll and investment,” explained Richard Rankin, office manager with the SCDF.
“We have the framework to really provide workforce training that any industry might need. Some of our programs include workforce development; we have access to job protection grant programs, minority business enterprise loan programs and those type of things. And, of course,” Rankin continued, “The state, as well as the county, provides all kinds of incentives as well.”
Along these lines, Simpson County was the first county in the state to establish Healthcare Development Zones. It took advantage of recent legislation that was passed to encourage the development of medically related businesses, using the hospital as a centerpiece of this plan. Healthcare is a major employer in Simpson County and helps contribute to the great quality of life.
“We are a primarily medically-related county,” addressed Caughman of the county’s economic composition. In fact, two out of three of Simpson County’s largest employers are in the healthcare field and related services. “We’ve targeted medical businesses; we are also very reliant on government services and administration.” He notes that the county is also home to some retail, light manufacturing, agriculture and forestry, food services and hospitality.
A number of important employers call Simpson County home. Significant employers include Boswell Regional Center and Millcreek Behavioral Health Services with over five hundred employees each, the Simpson County School District with over five hundred employees, Magee and Simpson General Hospitals with over two hundred employees each, and Polk’s Meat Products with over one hundred employees.
It must be noted that Boswell is regarded as exemplary in its field. As well, Polk’s Meat Products recently invested $3 million in upgrades into its equipment, making the plant more productive and efficient. Investments have also been made in the construction of a Dollar General Store and a multimillion-dollar Love’s Travel Stop and Country Store – noteworthy investments for the county.
This is also perfect location for natural gas distribution and storage. Simpson County is already home to two large gas storage facilities, and there is room for growth. A salt dome in the area has proven to be ideal for natural gas storage, and is another one of the county’s assets that are being used in the interest of the local economy.
Both businesses and residents enjoy the benefit of dependable utilities through providers like SEMPRA Energy, Entergy, Southern Pine Power Association and Wilmut Gas and Oil. Infrastructure, logistics, and proximity all come together to position Simpson County to support diverse industries and sectors.
The county also has industrial land available, as well as property that has been zoned for commercial and retail. Not only does it have room to grow, but it also boasts a competitive tax structure and affordable housing and business costs. Banks serve as key partners to the SCDF and, as a result, help to streamline the investment process.
“We do have a few locations that are ready to go,” Caughman noted. “We have a 112-acre industrial park in Mendenhall, we have a ninety-acre business park in Magee, and there is currently only about fifteen acres of that original ninety acres being utilized by business.”
Rankin said that the county is becoming more proactive in managing its land. “For example, we’re getting analyses on all of our property from experts in the area – economic developers in private industry. We have the remnants of an old industrial park in Magee, and we’re looking to see if any of that property is valuable as retail property.”
Simpson County also has a 50,000 square foot metal building available that can serve many different industry sectors. The SCDF continues to identify opportunities to purchase additional land, especially properties that are served by both highway and rail.
The county has everything a business or individual needs to be successful. It is home to a loyal, hardworking labor force that, paired with its exceptional workforce development initiatives, serves as a substantial asset.
“We’ve got hard working ol’ country people that are dependable; they’re willing to learn; they’re willing to work hard; and we’ve got one of the best community college centers in the nation right here in the county to provide training,” stated Caughman.
Education is another benefit, as Mississippi’s community colleges were recently declared the best community college system nationwide. The SCDF has a special relationship with Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Workforce Development Center, and this connection further strengthens its local workforce development efforts.
The SCDF works with local partners to capitalize on investment, job growth and community well-being. In addition to multiple partnerships with governments and organizations at the municipal, regional and state level, the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) has been an important partner.
“We realize we need help,” acknowledged Caughman. “We tap into anybody and everybody that can help us, and USM has certainly done that through their graduate program in economic development. That has been very helpful to us.” USM graduate students conducted a study of Simpson County’s local assets, and this a great starting point for the SCDF to plan future development.
“We need to work toward and attain a unified vision and a unified plan and that is to identify what our assets are and how we can uniquely capitalize on those, because we are convinced that we have assets that just need to be more fully recognized and appreciated,” said Rankin. Simpson County is dedicated to strategic growth and making decisions that will set the foundation for the community’s future.
The SCDF will continue to identify and exploit its assets for the economic viability and social vitality of the area. The foundation is committed to strengthening these relationships and welcomes collaboration that will help it to achieve its mission of attracting jobs, investment, and population to the county.