Thursday, September, 22, 2005

Elected officials hear economic outlook

Staff Writer

An economic study prepared by Alan Barefield with Mississippi State Extension Service may help elected officials and the business community understand the driving forces behind Marshall County’s economy.

Barefield presented figures on the economic outlook in Marshall County at the quarterly elected officials luncheon, a revival of what was once called the council of government.

He said new manufacturing companies were moving into Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana before Hurricane Katrina and the manufacturing sector will be more important to the southern states’ economies now. Rising energy prices are a concern for manufacturing as well as other businesses. The state’s growing tourism market - gambling and recreation - has been expanding, but service sector concerns about energy prices is dampening optimism about growth.

In the lending sector, an expectation of rising interest rates may “unfold the housing market boom,” Barefield said.

Growth in the labor force is expected to be slow with a declining rate of participation by men, he said. But baby boomers who are leaving the labor force will be wealthier than retirees of the next generations, he predicted.

Marshall County’s economic development looks good due to new highway construction projects - I-269 and designation of Highway 78 as an I-22 project - and due to the proximity of the FedEx hub, he said.

Marshall County’s population, which has been at a steady state, is expected to take off with a projected increase by 10,000 in 20 years, he said. Current figures put the county population at 35,330 with 12,332 households. The gender ratio is close to 50:50. There are slightly more African Americans than whites and other races living in the county.

Sales revenues could be as much as a third higher if Marshall County residents spent their money in the county.

“People are not shopping in the county as they should,” Barefield said.

Hurricane Katrina is affecting what agencies do in Mississippi, according to several people at the luncheon.

Barefield said at the county extension offices emphasis on what services are provided changes almost daily.

Extension offices in coastal counties are staying open during the weekend in some counties so residents can use computers to search for relatives, he said. Most extension offices are okay but some offices sustained heavy damage, he said.

Service has shifted to distributing disaster publications, looking for relatives, helping the storm victims find assistance and providing televisions and DVDs in shelters through a partnership with Mississippi Educational Television.

Forestry Service crews and equipment have fanned out to clear roads and work with other emergency crews, Barefield said.

Lisa Stevens with Northeast Mississippi Planning and Development District, said the PDDs will likely have new duties, one of which is plotting or mapping the location of damaged or missing homes for federal (FEMA) and state (MEMA) emergency management agencies.

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