Delta, Jackson Projects Receive Funding Despite Sluggish State Economy | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Delta, Jackson Projects Receive Funding Despite Sluggish State Economy

Gov. Phil Bryant announced the seven Mississippi project winners who received a combined $1.1 million from the Delta Regional Authority through the States’ Economic Development Assistance Program.

Gov. Phil Bryant announced the seven Mississippi project winners who received a combined $1.1 million from the Delta Regional Authority through the States’ Economic Development Assistance Program. Photo by Imani Khayyam.

A modern food hub for farmers and consumers will start its trial run in the coming weeks, and is scheduled to open this spring. The Up in Farms Food Hub—a facility for farmers to bring and distribute local produce to restaurants and grocers in the Jackson area—was one of the seven Mississippi improvement projects that received more than $1 million in federal funding through the Delta Regional Authority. The funding is for projects that improve community infrastructure, expand existing facilities to create jobs, and start new projects in the Delta and central regions of the state.

On Dec. 10, Gov. Phil Bryant joined the Delta Regional Authority co-chairman Chris Masingill to announce the seven Mississippi projects receiving the funding at the Old Farmers Market behind Memorial Stadium in Jackson, where the Up in Farms Food Hub is located. Jeff Good, one of the founding partners of Soul City Hospitality, which will run Up in Farms Food Hub, said he hopes to see the food hub become "the crossroads of health and wealth" for the local Jackson community and the state.

The Up in Farms Food Hub received $315,080 to help with renovation and construction costs at the facility. Hinds Community College also received $200,000 from the Delta Regional Authority to expand workforce training and occupational education programs.

Bryant said the Up in Farms Food Hub will help bring agriculture back to the capital city and provide job opportunities and learning opportunities to educate the community about healthy eating and living.

"We are trying to make sure we have a market for local farmers throughout Central Mississippi to bring produce here and ... get it in local restaurants and local schools," the governor said following the presentation.

"We'll have healthier opportunities for our children in schools and for all of us to enjoy locally grown products right here in the capital city," Bryant added.

The seven projects should create 95 jobs—65 of which would be at the Hinds Community College skills training center.

The Bigger Picture

Economic development and growth in Mississippi, specifically, have been on a slow uptick, according to economic indicators. State economist Darrin Webb said Mississippi's economy is growing around .8 percent and that the state's growth rate is not great compared to other states—the national average for growth was 2.4 percent.

"We're the same as we have been for the past three or four years (for economic growth)," Webb said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its national and statewide economic outlook reports on Dec. 4. The national unemployment rate stayed at 5 percent in November. Mississippi's unemployment rate has fallen dramatically over the year from 7.1 percent in January to 5.9 percent in October, but experts say this indicates little about the growth of the state's economy.

The unemployment rate is not a reliable indication of what's going on in the economy, Webb said. He tracks employment numbers, instead—looking primarily at the jobs report to see how many jobs and in what fields are created or lost.

Since October 2014, Mississippi has added 8,300 jobs in total, the BLS November reports show. The manufacturing industry added 1,200 jobs in Mississippi last month. Due to Mississippi's small economy, individual employers can have significant impacts on jobs—one part of Mississippi's growth or decline is the Kemper County power plant that saw a large increase in jobs at first and then a decrease, which has helped drive trends, Webb said.

Despite Mississippi's plummeting unemployment rate over the past year, Webb said he is skeptical and discounts the household-collected data—people asked at their homes if they are employed and if they are looking for work. So far, those data show that more people are finding jobs, but Webb said he doesn't know where those jobs are because the income-tax withholdings data have not indicated similar growth.

"In theory, if residence-based employment is growing and the establishment-based is not, then that would indicate that there are a lot of people getting jobs outside of Mississippi but they live in Mississippi," Webb explained.

Wherever those in household surveys say they are employed, the actual economic return in the form of taxes is not boosting the state's economy like it should be. Although Mississippi's low unemployment rate does not tell the whole story of the state's economy, local infrastructure development can create jobs that are based here in the state.

Local Job Creation

One of the Delta Regional Authority project investments will go toward building the Hinds Community College Gray-Partridge site, which will expand workforce training and occupational education programs. The project will create 65 jobs.

The completion of the other local project, Up in Farms Food Hub, should also stimulate local economy once it is complete. Good said the current team is going to perform a trial run to process an clean a small amount of product though the hub while construction on the facility is finished.

"We're going to learn the process and be doing the construction at the same time. That way construction will be done for the spring when the bounty comes in when (we) will be scaling up on employment," Good told the Jackson Free Press.

Farmers, grocers, restaurateurs and consumers could all benefit from the hub, and UMMC plans to bring physicians to the hub to learn how to help patients with better nutrition. Bryant said the hub will create job opportunities in agriculture, the restaurant business and the medical industry.

"The capital city has all but lost its agricultural base," Bryant said. "This is a returning (to that) and an opportunity to market and then re-market products."

Comment at Email Arielle Dreher at [email protected].

Clarification: An earlier version of this story listed Hinds Community College and Holmes Community College as grant recipients. Hinds Community College was the only institution who received a DRA grant--not Holmes. We apologize for the confusion.

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