Thursday, December 25, 2008
Speed backs optimism with array of logic
Jacksonian Leland Speed is, like me, a hopeless optimist. No doubt, geneticists will one day find a gene for this trait.
Where would we be without optimism? No doubt, the species would have long since passed into oblivion without us, for doom and gloom aren’t what keep us going. To the contrary, it is the concept that the future will be better that motivates.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you. And just because you are a hopeless optimist doesn’t mean the future isn’t bright. Leland Speed backs his optimism with an impressive array of facts and logic.
Take Jackson for starters. Leland points out that the three pillars of the Jackson economy are health care, government and education. “You can’t find more recession proof legs to put on a stool.”
Health care spending will double over the next 10 years. The University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMC) is 10 percent of the entire Jackson economy, employing 8,000.
The UMC medical school is planning to increase the student size from 100 to 200. Medical residents will increase by 300. “We’re going to have 400 more people running around with MD behind their names,” Leland says.
Leland was involved with bringing a peer consultancy to Jackson. City planners from Houston, Nashville, and Bradenton, Fla., came to Jackson to size up our situation.
“They sized up our town so fast it embarassed me. I thought we were more complicated than that.”
First thing they said was that Jacksonians are obsessed with crime. Nashville and Houston have more crime per capita, but those cities are not obsessed with it.
The city planners saw an arc of development starting at JSU, going up through downtown and up State Street. This is how Jackson will rebuild its ad valorem base.
There are 16 major projects planned or under construction, most of them multi use.
From 2001 to 2006 there was $29 million in new Jackson construction. In 2007, there was $257 million and 2008 will have just as much, Leland says. That’s $50 million more than Madison and Rankin combined.
“These three pillars of health, government and education are concentrated inside the city limits. We haven’t even scratched the surface of medical research as a growth area for our city going forward.”
Leland described the Capitol Green Entergy project as “very real.” He expects the first housing deal in the first quarter of 2009.
He also sees a new hotel for the convention center and senior housing downtown. “Each of these projects is multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
One big force behind downtown development is demographic change. Seventy-two percent of households have no children, and 50 percent of adults are single.
“The idea of having a yard so big you have to have a $3,500 lawn mower doesn’t appeal to a lot of those people, but a loft apartment in the Standard Life building with a cool coffee shop down below does.”
There is a waiting list for downtown housing with 500 units under construction.
“They’re not like Bubba who drives to his house, opens the ’fridge for a cool one and plops down on his Lazy Boy. Downtown people are different. They’re very involved in the community.
Still the Big Kahuna of Jackson development is John McGowan’s Two Lakes, Leland says. “If we create 130 miles of waterfront property right in the middle of Jackson, then hold onto your hats.”
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