Meridian Star

June 16, 2013

Local economy tied to rest of the U.S., world

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     On June 3, Gov. Phil Bryant announced that the CertainTeed plant in Meridian would reopen its manufacturing division that shut down in 2009.

    The company is expected to invest $24 million over the next two years and will hire about 110 people by 2016 when the building products manufacturer begins production in Meridian.

    The announcement followed on the heels of news that eight KC-135 Stratotankers will be assigned to the 186th Air Refueling Wing of the Mississippi Air National Guard.

    The first KC-135 arrived in Meridian last Monday, with another expected to arrive June 24. The remaining six air refueling tankers are expected to be in place by September, with an additional 70 or more airman assigned to the wing, according to one estimate.

    Combined, CertainTeed and the 186th will bring in about 180 new jobs — providing incomes that will be spent on homes, cars and in local restaurants and retail shops.

    That's good news.

    A common complaint is, "Why doesn't Meridian and Lauderdale County do a better job attracting industry or large companies."

    The complaints usually peak when an announcement is made that another part of the state has landed a manufacturing plant, such as in April when executives with Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. said they will build a new tire plant in West Point, with plans to hire 500 people in a first phase and up to 2,000 people over time.

    Also in April, GE Aviation opened a 340,000-square-foot plant in Ellisville, committing to hiring more than 250 employees.

    The fact is, however, that Lauderdale County does boast a fair number of large employers.

    According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were 262 companies in Lauderdale County that each employed more than 500 people, with a combined annual payroll that exceeded $478 million.

    In comparison, the combined annual payroll in Lauderdale County in 2010 for firms with fewer than 500 employees was about $465 million, according to the Census figures.

    Here's the breakdown:

    • In 2010 there were 1,241 firms with fewer than 20 employees in Lauderdale County – this number includes those people who are self employed — with a combined annual payroll of $172 million.

    • There were168 firms employing between 20 to 99 people, with an annual payroll of $163 million.

    • And 60 firms that employed between 100 and 499 people, with a combined annual income of $130 million.

    Things have changed since 2010, of course, with the most notable being the Dec. 31, 2012 closure of Handy Hardware and the subsequent loss of 109 local jobs.

    But that's business. Losing some businesses while gaining others is part of the normal business cycle, even in a healthy economy.

    While it is easy to criticize the lack of industry in Lauderdale County, or bestow credit when new industry arrives, the fact is, like the rest of the country, the local economy is dependent in large part to that of the U.S. and the world.

    While we may get an economic boost when a new industry arrives and feel the bite when another closes, until the economy as a whole improves, Meridian and Lauderdale County will continue to struggle with providing quality employment to its residents.

    The fact is budget sequestration and subsequent cutbacks in government spending, federal furloughs and a recent increase in the Social Security employee tax have had a bigger impact on the local economy than have any loss or gain in manufacturing jobs.

    Add into the mix a slowdown in China's economy, a continued recession in Europe and a softening in corporate investments over fears of another debt-limit crisis, and it is no wonder that people continue to worry about jobs and question what went wrong — but that's not unique to Meridian or Lauderdale County.