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EDF wants to assist in comp plan

Lafayette County is in a great economic position, but Jon Maynard, head of the local Economic Development Foundation, said it could be even better in the future.

Maynard gave a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday night outlining the history and strategic growth of the county, as well as pitching a couple ideas.

After giving a history of the EDF that began in 1992, Maynard broke down numbers for strategic growth in the county to measure success of economic development.

For example, Lafayette County’s assessed value in 1990 was more than $83 million and 25 years later, the county’s assessed value has grown to $576 million. Taxes collected during that time has grown from $5.8 million to nearly $30 million.

“That is a significant improvement,” Maynard said. “Many counties in the state of Mississippi would be absolutely flipped to even have $83 million.”

The numbers

In 2009, the total millage allocation in the county was 111.89 but has been reduced by more than 8 mills six years later. Of the 103.83 total mills, 69.37 is allocated to schools in the county and another 2.47 goes to Northwest Community College. The remaining 31.99 mills, which is the second lowest millage rate in the state, is used for public services.

“This allows all the people in the county to have the services you provide with less taxes,” Maynard said. “That’s efficiency.”

The county’s population has grown significantly in the last 45 years. In 1970, the county population stood at 24,181 with university enrollment at 7,376. That total population rose to 52,324 in 2015 with the university sustaining growth with 17,142 students in 2015.

About 30 to 35 percent of the county’s total population includes the university. Maynard said the ratio has been maintained since about 1960.

“So as the school grows the county grows. As the county grows the school grows,” Maynard said. “We are also seeing with that a finite size that we can work in here. Students are starting to take over because the university is starting to take over the city of Oxford. Things will start to be pushed out into the county. We are running out of space internally and have to start moving out into the county to be able to take care of the things we need to take care of.”

Personal per capita income has steadily risen with Lafayette County overtaking the state average in about 2002, meaning more people were coming into the county and being paid higher wages than the state average. Currently, the county has leveled off with the state average of approximately $35,000 per year.

But looking at a comparison of counties similar to Lafayette County, the per capita income growth is 12.17 percent, which is about the same as the national average and is more than Clay, Oktibbeha, Lowndes, Lee and DeSoto counties.

“There are some other towns around us that are not keeping pace with us,” Maynard said.

These numbers could be very useful going forward with the county’s comprehensive plan.

Maynard would like for the EDF to work in conjunction and as a partner with the county as they go forward with their expected comprehensive plan update.

“We applaud the work you guys have done. We applaud the way you are handling the affairs of the county, and growing it in a way that is both big but also sustainable,” Maynard said. “We would like to be an integral part of your strategic plan. We’d love to have our strategy built into your strategy.”

Eroding workforce

There are some concerns for the county. Maynard said the competitive edge for industry recruitment is eroding.

“We are getting thinner on our workforce,” Maynard said. “We need some product improvement in the industrial park in order to keep up with the demands that are coming in our doors on a daily basis.”

For example, Winchester currently employs approximately 1,400 and according to Maynard, a ZIP code survey revealed eight months ago that about 65 percent of the employees live outside Lafayette County, which indicates how thin the current workforce is in the county.

InvestPrep

One way Maynard believes to do that is through a program of the Tennessee Valley Authority called InvestPrep, a matching grant program. It’s a 50 percent match up to $500,000.

“We can do an awful lot of great things with this,” Maynard said. He would like to schedule a work session with the supervisors to learn more about the program and “hammer out whether we want to do it and what to do with the InvestPrep money.”

One idea Maynard would like to see done is a workforce study of Lafayette County to help address the thinning workforce. He’d also like to see some improvements to the industrial park, particularly take funds already set aside for an overlay of the road and with the matching grant create a three-lane curb and gutter and possibly extend the road. A third plan would be take the existing spec building pad at the industrial park and rebuild the spec building that was destroyed by a tornado. Maynard suggested it could be a contract warehouse or an incubator.

The spec building was instrumental for Caterpillar to train their employees for about a year.

Maynard said up to 95 percent of the request for proposals the EDF has received lately have asked for existing buildings.

“We have not been able to show them anything,” Maynard said.

He envisions a spec building that would be flexible and be used in multiple ways, such as warehouse space or assembly space, as well as training.