Harrison County Releases Its Economic Report

Rose Bozeman doesn't have a job. On Sept. 28, 2001, she got laid off, becoming one of last year's recession casualties.

Five months later, Bozeman sat at her mother's dining room table. She had two rejection letters in one hand, and classified ads in the other had.

"I do need a job," Bozeman said. "That's my basic goal, to get back in the working field."

According to the Harrison County Development Commission's annual report, Bozeman was one of 3,500 people laid off last year by nine coast companies.

Bruce Nourse is president of the development commission. "What this report highlights is that yes, there are some problems. But there is huge potential on the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

Nourse hosted the breakfast where Harrison County unveiled the state of the coast economy report. Nourse said the report points out that the coast has "a lot of opportunity. A lot of potential. I think we have a solid foundation to build on to diversify the economy."

Like many areas hurt by the national recession, Harrison County's retail industry struggled last year. The report said retail sales were down two percent. And home construction was off 26 percent.

But commercial construction jumped 28 percent. The slot machine maker IGT was an example of the commercial growth. It opened a new warehouse near I-10 last year that quadrupled its old space.

George Kiernan is an account executive for IGT Gulfport. Because of the new plant, "Service is a lot better," he said. "We're right here in the central area of the interstate, so trucking games in and out of here is great."

What the development commission's report concluded was that even though the boom economy of the mid 1990s has ended, the Coast economy is still growing. It's just growing at more moderate levels.

Rose Bozeman said she's hoping moderate growth leads her to personal success. "I just want a job again," she said. "I just want to go back to work."

In the annual report, development leaders said Harrison County needs to recruit a cruise line, a Fortune 500 office operation, or a theme park to the area. They believe a business like that will reinvigorate the economy.