What a Port Commission’s for – to Bring Big Advantages to Business

Rosedale-Bolivar County, MS
Written by William Young

Where the two mighty river systems of the Mississippi and the Arkansas meet, with access all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, that’s where you’ll find the capable Port of Rosedale, doing business for American business.

Two mighty river systems, one powerful location: Sitting near the juncture of the Mississippi River and the mouth of the Arkansas River, the Port of Rosedale opens southern port access all the way to New Orleans on the Gulf of Mexico. Going west on the Arkansas River, there’s access through to Muskogee and to the Tulsa Port of Catoosa on the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

The Rosedale-Bolivar County Port Commission has been in operation since the 1970s. The Port of Rosedale itself is located in Rosedale, Mississippi, one hundred miles south of Memphis and one hundred miles north of Vicksburg, on the Mississippi River. Port Director Robert Maxwell says that the real advantage of the location is that it is fifteen river miles south of the mouth of the Arkansas River, offering easy access to areas like Tulsa, Muskogee, and Catoosa, Oklahoma, as well as Little Rock, Arkansas, all of which use Rosedale as a hub for transportation.

Also, the port’s northern Mississippi location, around 100 miles from Memphis, puts other major markets within a 500-mile radius, including Houston, Birmingham and Atlanta, while the temperate climate and all-weather capacity combine to ensure non-stop productivity. Whether it’s import or export, domestic or global, the Port of Rosedale is particularly well positioned and equipped to move shipping swiftly and efficiently.

Transportation access
Maxwell adds that being on the lower Mississippi River means there are no surrounding dams, allowing free and open access for boat travel. Further-away places like New Orleans, 550 river-miles south – “about a four-day trip” – come within reach.

Cleveland-Bolivar County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Judson Thigpen suggests that what makes the Port an attractive location for businesses has to do with the lack of congestion that comes with being in a more rural area, with transportation access easier than ever thanks to the proximity of the local highways and the ease of access by boat.

The area, Thigpen explains, is relatively inexpensive for executives and business employees to live and do business in, and with three hundred prime acres available (along with a 250-acre industrial park just outside the port mission), there is “room for business to thrive”.

Business expansion
According to Maxwell, the primary business at the port is agricultural, with increasing amounts of commodities and grain being shipped for export, and chemicals and fertilizers imported for local use. Indicative of the growing throughput is the experience of one broker and shipper, Helena Chemical Company, which has undergone a considerable expansion over the last four years. From a largely automated operation with temporary staffing employment, it has grown to some twenty full-time employees.

This example of business expansion in the port has amounted to “around a thirty-five-million-dollar investment and an eight- to ten-million-dollar investment on top of that”, Maxwell suggests. The Port of Rosedale has seen an overall increase in business, and this has also brought improved conditions and opportunities for local farmers and producers because of the increased level of competition amongst incoming agents and shippers.

On agriculture in general, Maxwell says that the industry is continuously evolving and becoming more efficient, in no small part because the Port is so close to agriculture and acreage in Bolivar County and its neighboring counties, as well as the Arkansas Delta. He says that a huge advantage for the Port of Rosedale is being an outlet for the county to ship its product, especially with the nearest ports forty to sixty miles away.

Agriculture and growth
Growth within the local agriculture industry has also come from favorable commodity pricing, but that is something that can change on an annual basis. Maxwell notes that it will take consistent application of technology that increases crop yields, and also favorable movements in commodity prices over a sustained period, to truly evolve and grow the industry.

This year, 2019, has already seen flooding in the lower Delta and along the Arkansas, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers.

Thigpen does admit that the Port Commission and port tenants face additional challenges in the hiring of employees for higher-skilled or specific technical positions (a problem found across the country). In general, though, he says, the state of the workforce in the county is quite good. The County began incorporating work-ready programs around two years ago, meaning that the workforce is tested with a skill assessment called WorkKeys, with over two thousand people tested to date. This amounts to nearly 58 percent of the workforce – responsible for 65 percent of the work – having been assessed.

Thigpen also notes that Baxter Healthcare in Cleveland will be implementing a seventy million dollar expansion, adding between seventy and one hundred employees, a boon to local employment. Thanks to an able county workforce as well as “a favorable industrial climate”, the port (along with the Rosedale Industrial Park) has created over 1,700 direct and indirect jobs, with an estimated sixty-million-dollar investment from public and private interests.

Tax breaks and a better life
An added attraction for incoming businesses bringing in new jobs is the state’s tax breaks. Thigpen says that Mississippi is attractive to new businesses thanks to these incentives. Bolivar County is what’s known as a GAP (Growth and Prosperity) community, meaning that poverty and unemployment levels in the county are at a level at which it can offer tax incentives for businesses with ten or more employees, or abatements on personal and real property taxes.

Thigpen also remarks on the high quality of life of Rosedale and Bolivar counties: Rosedale is only twenty miles from Cleveland, Mississippi, a hub of cultural and recreational activities, as well as home to Delta State University. Thigpen says that Delta State brings in around four thousand students thanks to its music industry and flight school programs. Cleveland also opened a Grammy Awards museum in 2016, the second to do so outside Los Angeles. Music has remained a big draw thanks to the Mississippi Delta’s reputation of “being where the blues were born,” as Thigpen says.

In fact, the tourism industry has picked up so much so that multi-million-dollar investments are being made into hotels within the area due to what Thigpen describes as a “tremendous amount of travel from European and Asian countries.”

River with a future
Looking ahead, the Port Commission anticipates developments to the nearby county and area in a more long-term sense. The Port will be providing a connection to the extension of the I-69 highway, or the “NAFTA Superhighway,” which will run from Michigan to Texas. Thigpen mentions that development on the project is quiet at this moment, but work continues, such as the opening of a segment of the highway around Memphis connecting the I-55 and I-40 segments. The project has been dubbed a top transportation project of the future, but Thigpen notes that it is pended for the moment, waiting on funds to be approved; however, he holds firm that “the project will happen.”

Another project on the horizon for the Port Commission is the reactivation of the county’s short-rail system, which Maxwell describes as getting it operational again. The line has not run in recent years, but there remains interest from the county and the Port Commission, as well as potential customers, to see it up and running soon.

Thigpen summarizes the Rosedale-Bolivar area as having a good mix of industry, agriculture, retail and service industries, so that “when some are lacking, others pick up the slack.” Thigpen admits that the Mississippi Delta may have a reputation which could be improved, in the minds of some, but both Thigpen and Maxwell resolutely claim that seeing the area for oneself would be a changing experience for those doubting minds. As Thigpen says, “For a small county in the Mississippi delta, we’re doing well and have good quality of life.”

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