PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - One message. One voice. One effort.
That was the sentiment conveyed Monday morning at the Jackson County State of the Economy Address.
Reflecting on 2019, business leaders from throughout the county gathered to hear how the year went and look ahead to 2020. The biggest takeaway from the breakfast meeting was that 2019 was one of the county’s most successful years.
With over 2,000 industry jobs created and new capital investments in excess of $220 million, it was a monumental year for Jackson County.
Executive director of the Economic Development Foundation George Freeland summed it up in one sentence: “2019 was one of the best economic development years on record.”
Much of that growth is attributed to the expansion of the county’s industries and is a result of projects that have been in the works for years. Some of the most notable ones that have helped create so many jobs include VT Halter Marine’s $745 million contract with the U.S. Coast Guard to build a Polar Security Cutter.
Those big businesses provide more opportunities and pathways to small businesses in the county, and the Chamber of Commerce’s goal is to be there every step of the way to help bridge that gap.
“It is a time of great energy, great momentum, and true grit, and that makes me very proud and it should make you proud as well," said Chamber of Commerce President Paige Roberts. "The chamber’s role in all of this, I see, is a convener. We are convening our partners together, we are communicating and coordinating because as we know there is great strength in numbers.”
The industries in the county give back to the community and to the small businesses in the area, said Roberts, pointing out programs like committee initiatives, small business and facade grants, and STEM grants for local schools. Most recently, said Roberts, was the health screenings provided by Singing River Health Services specifically for Chamber members. It was an idea born after a local small business owner had a stroke.
“Here, we have the industries that are able to have resources for their own employees but they reach out to the small businesses that may not have such resources and that is true corporate citizenship," said Roberts.
It’s just one example of how the Chamber of Commerce and various industries are working to promote economic growth on all levels.
“That’s what we’re here for. The Chamber of Commerce is about humanizing commerce,” said Roberts. “We’re listening to what the needs are and we’re responding to them appropriately but we’re not doing it alone."
“We are one message, one voice, one effort. That is what we do when we come together with our board of supervisors, with our municipalities, from the City of Discovery to Nature’s Playground to the Flagship City to the River City and all of the vibrant area north of I-10 that fills in the rest of our county, we are one.”
And while 2019 was a year of strong economic growth, leaders are already looking to how they can make 2020 even better.
“There is still more work to be done," said Roberts. "We have work to do in workforce development, in the housing situations, in revitalizing our downtowns. There is no greater time for us in this county to breathe new life into our communities and into our people.”
And that’s exactly what the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce tries to do by forming strong community bonds with small business owners, supporting them in every way possible, from times of personal crisis to helping set up a social media presence for new businesses who are struggling to do so.