Meridian Star

November 3, 2013

Mayor seeks 'health zone' designation

The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN — By Terri Ferguson Smith

    Efforts are continuing to develop a plan that will spell out how Meridian can offer benefits to health care related businesses.

    Mayor Percy Bland has been assembling the needed support to fund a Healthcare Zone Master Plan which spells out how the city would earn the designation of Mississippi Health Care Industry Zone.

    Legislation establishing such zones passed in the Mississippi Legislature in 2012 and is administered through the Mississippi Development Authority. It is a program, according to the MDA, to provide incentives to health care projects, including sales and property tax exemptions.

    "Meridian is positioned for this because we are a health care hub," Bland said. "Everyone from a 45 to 50 mile radius comes to Meridian for their health care needs."

    Bland has been shoring up support to fund a study and most recently received a commitment from the city council of $15,000. Two major health care providers in Meridian, Anderson Regional Medical Center and Rush Foundation Hospital, have committed funds to help pay for the plan as well.

    MDA information on the health zones indicates that a project has to be certified as a health care industry facility and it must operate in an eligible health care industry zone. Getting the zone designation will serve as an economic development tool for Meridian and Lauderdale County, Bland said.

    "It's important to us is because our two major employers in the city are Rush and Anderson. With those two at the table, we should be able to promote and drive vendors and other businesses that may be doing business with those two large employers to Meridian," Bland said. "There are a lot of opportunities for biotech companies, medical providers and other businesses that we don't have in Meridian. When we put this comprehensive plan together, it just gives us better leverage promoting our city because of having the opportunities that we already have with being a health care hub for this entire area."

    Developing a plan is a necessary step in becoming eligible for economic development incentives for healthcare related industry from the state, Bland said.

    "But the plan does much more than this," Bland said. "It takes a detailed look at existing assets and economic /demographic conditions, creates a physical framework master plan for healthcare industry development, and provides detailed recommendations and strategies for implementing the plan and growing the local healthcare industry."

    Wallace Strickland, president and CEO of Rush Health Systems, said Meridian is well suited for the designation.

    " Our community meets the criteria as a Health Care Zone because we comprise an area within a five-mile radius of a health care facility with a Certificate of Need for acute care hospital beds in a region where there are three contiguous counties which have Certificates of Need for more than 375 acute care hospital beds," Strickland said.

    Strickland said the community would benefit from the economic development and quality of life aspects that accompany any new business growth that comes to a region.

    "This would  include such things as an increase in new technological expertise, more and hopefully, higher-paying jobs, recruitment of well-educated and skilled workforce members, increase in the tax base and sales taxes paid by citizens who purchase goods, and a stronger economy in general," Strickland said. "New businesses tend to locate where other businesses are performing well and are treated well. In our industry, if the businesses that locate here as participants in Mississippi Health Care Industry Zone Incentive Program supply an item that we need, or offer more or better local choices of an item that we use, then we would experience some direct benefit in addition to the overall community benefits."

    L. Ray Humphreys, president and CEO of Anderson Regional Medical Center, said the healthcare industry is already having a significant effect on the area.

    "The Meridian medical community is already one of the largest economic impact providers in East Mississippi," Humphreys said "The Health Care Industry Zone Act was designed by Gov. Phil Bryant and his staff to bring new businesses and jobs to this area. The tax credits and other incentives built into this legislation will hopefully further enhance this economic impact and lead to even more success for our community."

    Bland said the process of developing the plan will start with assessing the community's assets, both in healthcare and in other areas; they will meet with local leaders, including those from the city, county, hospital, economic development organizations, and higher-ed institutions. They will conduct market studies and then prepare an economic impact assessment in the process as well.  

    When all is said and done, and the approval is granted, Bland said he hopes it will bring more healthcare businesses here.

    "The incentives will drive business to Meridian. That's what we want to happen," Bland said.

     According to MDA, the incentive program is designed to benefit medical service providers and businesses engaged in:

    · Medical supply

    · Biologics

    · Laboratory testing

    · Medical product distribution

    · Diagnostic imaging

    · Biotechnology

    · Pharmaceutical research and development

Approved Healthcare Industry Zones:

Quitman in Clarke County

West Point in Clay County

Hazelhurst in Copiah County

Waveland in Hancock County

Belzoni in Humphreys County

Canton in Madison County

Winona in Mongtogmery County

Macon in Noxubee County

Batesville in Panola County

Morton in Scott County

Yazoo City in Yazoo County