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Jon Maynard is working to build employment options in Oxford and Lafayette County

There’s always more than one way to do something and when it comes to bringing jobs to Mississippi, each county is doing what they hope works for that area.

But Jon Maynard doesn’t hope what the Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation and Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce is doing is working — he knows and has the figures to back it up.

Maynard

Maynard

Recently, the television show 60 Minutes did a feature on Mississippi’s Golden Triangle — Lowndes, Oktibbeha, and Clay counties — and the success its economic developer, Joe Max Higgins, who helped increase the number of jobs in the area by fighting to bring in large manufacturing companies.

However, Maynard, president and CEO of the chamber and EDF, told the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors Tuesday that Lafayette County doesn’t need 50 “whales,” or large factories to grow its employment options, but rather a combination of factories, technology jobs, retail, and other “tropical fish” businesses.

Maynard explained the two philosophies of economic development — the Top Down philosophy — where counties go for the big factories and build their communities around them, or the Bottom Up philosophy.

“Where you build a community and the economy will follow,” he said.

Maynard presented figures from the Mississippi Department of Labor showing a comparison between Lafayette County and other counties around the state in regards to Population Trends:  Total Employment; Manufacturing Employment; Average Annual Income, Retail Sales and Assessed Value.

Population in Lafayette County has increased 27.11 percent from 2000 to 2015, the highest in the state. Lee County has grown 11.19 percent, Lowndes County’s population decreased -3.14 percent and Jackson increased 6.5 percent.

“Does that mean we’re doing something right?” asked Lafayette County Board President Jeff Busby.

“That means we’re doing something right,” Maynard replied.

Job growth

When talking about “total employment” rates, Maynard said everyone’s jobs count, from the person working at a fast food restaurant to lawyers.

With the exception of DeSoto, Lafayette, Lee and Union Counties, job growth in the region is stagnant. Many communities are losing overall jobs. Lafayette County has added 5,500 new jobs between 2000 and 2015.

While Lafayette County has lost 270 manufacturing jobs, it’s still well below the state’s average.

Maynard said Lafayette County saw a big increase of jobs between 2014 and 2016 but is a bit concerned about whether that trend will continue.

“What started in that time period? We started building a new hospital. We were building The Pavilion. We’re not going to keep building forever,” he said. “We have to continue to find high-paying jobs. While those numbers look good, they aren’t sustainable.”

The average annual wage for the state of Mississippi is $37,840. In Lafayette County, it’s $47,112 — the third highest in the state.

Retail sales jumped 31 percent from 2007 to 2015 while Mississippi overall only saw a 1.07 increase.

“This increase is fueled by a rise in the purchase of construction materials as well as the increase in the number of retail establishments in the city of Oxford,” Maynard said.

Being innovative

The county’s assessed value increased 66.73 percent from 2000 to 2014.

“We’re doing a pretty good remarkable job in growing our economy,” he said. “We’re being innovative. By going after the tropical fish, we’re doing things in a more sustainable way.”

Maynard pointed out then when an area relies too heavily on the large manufacturing companies, a county can suffer greatly if that industry fails and leaves the area.

The secret of Lafayette County’s success, according to Maynard, is recruiting people, rather than just employers; dedicated support of local businesses; strong internal communication and agreement between the county, city of Oxford and the University of Mississippi.

A challenge for EDF, Maynard said, is growing while keeping Oxford like Oxford and Lafayette County like Lafayette County.

“We’re not buying deals, we’re creating a community,” he said.

Supervisor Kevin Frye said he’s heard from some of his constituents that they would like more industry jobs available in the county.

“And we’re going to have those jobs,” Maynard said. “But I want to be able to say, ‘You want manufacturing jobs? You got them. You want retail jobs? You got them. You want tech jobs? You got them.”

Maynard said he will provide a report to the supervisors every quarter to give them an update on Lafayette County’s economic development progress.