Harrison County

Biloxi eyes expansion of medical industry

CHRISTOPHER BOSTICK/SUN HERALDMerit Health Biloxi is downtown and another hospital has been approved off I-10 in North Biloxi,
CHRISTOPHER BOSTICK/SUN HERALDMerit Health Biloxi is downtown and another hospital has been approved off I-10 in North Biloxi,

BILOXI -- Mayor Andrew "FoFo" Gilich already has most communities in South Mississippi on board with his proposal for coastwide ultra-high-speed Internet. Now he's looking to create medical zones aimed at providing better health care and jobs in Biloxi.

"The market potential for health care is going straight up," he said.

A fiber-optic network could give Biloxi an advantage in attracting medical facilities that need those capabilities for telemedicine and other uses.

As baby boomers age, cities such as Houston and Orlando have used tax incentives to build mega-healthcare centers. New Orleans has greatly expanded its medical facilities since 2005's Hurricane Katrina, and Gilich said Biloxi needs to see what others have done with incentives to compete.

Tray Hairston, an attorney with Butler Snow and former counsel and policy adviser to Gov. Phil Bryant, said Biloxi could make use of the Mississippi Health Care Industry Zone Act passed in 2012. It provides tax incentives to health-care companies that move to or expand in Mississippi, invest at least $10 million and/or create at least 25 full-time jobs. These could be medical-supply companies, diagnostic-imaging centers, nursing and assisted-living facilities or other suppliers of medical care, research or equipment.

The bill was written to replicate in Jackson the success of the medical facilities that have been built in Houston. But the legislation as it was eventually passed focuses on communities with large hospitals.

Harrison and Jackson counties are two of only seven communities that have more than 375 acute-care beds required under the regulations, but zones can be established within a 5-mile radius of the hospital. Hancock County is one of only a dozen communities that has compiled a Health Care Zone Master Plan.

Merit Health Biloxi is downtown and another hospital has been approved off Interstate 10 in North Biloxi, creating two or more areas for a Health Care Zone.

Hairston said Mississippi has seen huge success with auto manufacturing in North Mississippi, but cars will change and manufacturers can move to another state that gives a better tax incentive.

"Health care is here," he said. Once in place, the facilities remain in the community.

He advised Biloxi to find a very competent planner who understands the process and is familiar with what is happening in Biloxi. Then decide "what do you do well and what do you want to be when you grow up."

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