Wiggins Growing While Maintaining Small Town Charm

WIGGINS (WLOX) -- Stone County has seen a lot of progress since Hurricane Katrina.

The Wiggins code office says so far this year, the city has issued more than 70 building permits. And while some see homes and business going up, many others see opportunity.

When construction crews finish work on a new Hampton Inn and Suites, Sarah Rogers will once again be able to work in the same place she lives. She'll be the general manager of Wiggins' newest hotel.

"I've been working out of town for about the last three or four years, and I'm very excited to get back to my hometown," Rogers said.

At the ground breaking for the new $3.5 million hotel, the Canton based developer called Wiggins is a business friendly town.

"Wiggins has a great city government. Very opening. Very welcoming to business. The location is excellent," developer Sunny Sethi said.

Sethi said the company is banking on adding to the success it's already had with its Bumpers and Western Sizzlin restaurants built just a few years ago.

"It was one of the number one Western Sizzlins in the state, and actually in our Western Sizzlin system," Sethi said.

Wiggins Mayor Jerry Alexander said the building permit for the new hotel is the largest ever issued by the city, and more development is going up all around. So far this year the city has issued more than 70 permits.

"You look around, you'll see a new $15 million shopping center under construction... There's three new banks going to be built here within looking distance of this spot," Mayor Alexander said.

Economic development means more property and sales tax revenue. The down side? It can bring traffic problems and infrastructure strain. That's why the mayor says the city is committed to making sure it grows the right way.

According to Mayor Alexander, "We've got a good bunch of people that's working together, that's got one thing in their mind, and that's the progress in Wiggins and Stone County. You do have to look at plans. They do have to meet our comprehensive plan."

And the building boom isn't limited to commercial development. Wiggins Place is a small part of a Stone County housing explosion. In a few months, the first of 40 families are expected to move into the three and four bedroom homes.

"Wiggins is in need of housing and very much in need of affordable houses, which is what this is. And when we did the application with the Mississippi Home Corp Corporation, it wasn't very difficult to justify Stone County and/or Wiggins as an area that was in dire need of affordable housing," said Helmon Johnson with Pearl River Valley Opportunity.

Johnson said tax credits allow a private-public partnership to help people who could not normally afford to buy a house. People who qualify lease for 15 years, then have the option to buy with no down payment.

"You have an influx of people that have come from the coast because of the hurricane, and the county, Stone County, is just busting open. There's nowhere for people to stay and there are a whole lot of folks that have moved here. But prior to the hurricane, the housing stock that was here was in bad shape," Johnson said.

"There's some other developments that are getting ready to start and some are going on now. That's good, but it's not the total answer to the problem here. We're just part of the answer."

As Sarah Rogers looks around, she celebrates how Wiggins is growing and still maintaining its charm.

"I went down Pine Hill the other day and it's just like it always was, but better, you know. And it's just very exciting to see the changes, but having the changes happen in a way that preserves what I grew up with," Rogers said.