New project could bring jobs, developers to the Coast

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Site has 241 acres for lease, two miles from I-10.
Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport Site has 241 acres for lease, two miles from I-10. Courtesy of Mississippi Power Economic Development

Attracting developers and jobs to any area of the country has become so competitive that South Mississippi is using every advantage it has.

Mississippi Power Co. is adding to that advantage by completing preliminary work on industrial sites across the state and the Coast to make them more enticing to developers.

The economic development department at Mississippi Power is certifying six sites in the southeastern counties of the state, and eight throughout the company’s 23-county service area, as “Project Ready.”

That means the sites have undergone due diligence. Mississippi Power and its partners have completed the environmental assessment and endangered-species surveys; identified the wetlands; and determined the capacity of utilities on the site and what is available, said Brian Useforge, the energy company’s economic development director.

Developers may be searching for the best sites in hundreds of communities or a region, he said, and might start by eliminating those with the most risk.

With the preliminary work done through Project Ready, “it removes all of the unknown risks for them,” Useforge said. After a site gets past the first elimination round, he said, South Mississippi then has the chance to show off its resources, skilled workforce and the livability of the community.

“It always starts with a site,” he said.

Three of those sites are in Jackson County — the former International Paper mill at Moss Point, the Mississippi Export Railroad’s Helena property and the Aviation Technology property at Trent Lott Airport — said George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation.

Other sites are adjacent to the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and in the George County industrial site in Lucedale.

Freeland praised Mississippi Power’s efforts to catalog the sites and get them certified.

“It helps us as a community prepare these sites in a way that we can compete for new projects and new investment,” he said.

Project Ready is innovative and proactive, he said, but it’s also fundamental.

“The competition is doing the same thing,” he said, and without the preliminary work done for the developer, “they go somewhere else.”

Mississippi Power hired the Goldsmith Strategy firm to set standards for the sites and match them with what companies are looking for when selecting a site.

Now South Mississippi’s task is to get the word out about the Project Ready sites, using the Mississippi Power Economic Development website, social media and site-location consultants.

Useforge said many times, consultants come directly to the state, and the Mississippi Development Authority is aware of the Project Ready work that’s been done. Other developers come straight to a community, where Freeland and other economic developers in South Mississippi will supply the information.

Mississippi Power and its partners have identified other properties that may qualify and has reached out to them. Useforge said, “I foresee us adding to our list.”

Typically, the company gets involved in many of the projects being considered for South Mississippi, and goes out and recruits industrial and commercial development and backs workforce initiatives.

“To us, that’s all economic development,” Useforge said.