Many experts have declared that the future of economic development in rural America is entrepreneurship: cultivating homegrown businesses that eventually blossom into major employers and economic cornerstones.

Gone are the days of “chasing smokestacks”: luring out-of-town companies with promises of cheap labor and low taxes. In an increasingly global economy, cheaper labor and more generous incentives will always be available somewhere else — even if it means going overseas.

The best — and most stable — jobs are those created by hometown companies and entrepreneurs.

That’s why area economic developers and elected officials are ecstatic over Monday’s announcement by Shuqualak-based Loblolly Industries that it will build a 335,000-square-foot wood-processing plant in Lauderdale County, employing 140 workers directly and more than 160 indirectly.

Loblolly Industries is a division of Shuqualak Lumber Co., which, since its founding in 1948, has become one of the Southeast’s largest suppliers of Southern yellow pine. Loblolly President Anderson Thomas looked at 49 potential sites in 20 counties before deciding to keep the new plant right here in his native East Central Mississippi.

More exciting than the initial jobs created is the long-range potential of the engineered-wood business and the technology Loblolly will be employing. Under the brand name Scrimtec, Loblolly has exclusive manufacturing rights east of North America’s continental divide for a new technology called Timtek, which produces a structural wood product from immature pine trees.

For the first time ever in the lumber industry, supply will not be constrained by the availability of raw materials. Thomas is not engaging in hyperbole when he calls Scrimtec “the future of engineered wood.”

As demand for the product increases — it accounted for a modest 162 million cubic feet of residential building supplies last year — Loblolly’s manufacturing potential is unlimited.

The Scrimtec project is entrepreneurship at its best. Thomas, a lifelong East Mississippian whose family has enjoyed much success in the lumber business, identified an emerging technology and set out to be part of its development. His community, region and state — a diverse cast ranging from the East Mississippi Business Development Corp. and the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors to Mississippi State University and the state Land, Water and Timber Board — recognized the idea’s potential and embraced Thomas’ vision by supplying critical financial and research support.

The vision is now coming to fruition. Construction should begin in six months, and the plant, located in the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Industrial Park, should be operational by late 2007.

React to this story:


Trending Video