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By STEVEN NALLEY
2011 has brought significant growth to Mississippi State University‚Äôs Thad Cochran Research Park and new banks, retailers and restaurants to Starkville‚Äôs streets.
Jon Maynard, Greater Starkville Development Partnership president, said the two biggest stories of the year in business have been the expansion of research park businesses II-VI and SemiSouth. In March, II-VI announced an expansion into half of a new 20,000-square-foot facility under construction at the research park, growing its work force from six employees in a small pilot facility to more than 100 high-tech job opportunities. In October 2010, green energy leader Power Integrations invested $30 million in SemiSouth, and Maynard said this investment has allowed SemiSouth to grow into one of the city‚Äôs largest employers over the course of 2011.
‚ÄúThey are directly related to the types of targeted industries we‚Äôre going after, looking for those high-tech clusters,‚ÄĚ Maynard said. ‚ÄúBoth of these businesses work in the silicon carbide area, which is the next generation of electronics platforms. It fits in with the growth plan that we have because it will attract individual businesses that deal in those same sort of areas, and they also are significant because they have significant job counts in high-wage and advanced manufacturing industry.‚ÄĚ
Austin Shafer, GSDP vice president of membership and chamber of commerce, said he also considers developments in the research park to be the year‚Äôs top business story. He said the GSDP is also happy with the new businesses which have joined the Starkville community this year.
‚ÄúThey have all basically offered community service,‚ÄĚ Shafer said. ‚ÄúThey have said, ‚ÄėWhat does this community need from us coming into town?‚Äô We‚Äôve had a number of banks come in and say, ‚ÄėWhat could we do to help Starkville?‚Äô We can say nothing negative about (them.) They‚Äôve been wonderful.‚ÄĚ
On July 26, Renasant announced plans to enter the Starkville market, shortly followed on Aug. 4 by Trustmark announcing its intent to do the same. Renasant now has temporary locations at both the research park and College Park, and Trustmark‚Äôs new location is next door to Jeweler‚Äôs Bench. Maynard said the GSDP wants strong partnerships with both banks.
‚ÄúThese are companies that have invested in our community, and we‚Äôre very proud that they have,‚ÄĚ Maynard said. ‚ÄúThey are an integral part of the community fabric going forward, and so they become something that‚Äôs very integral to our growth.‚ÄĚ
Two national restaurant chains, Newk‚Äôs and Buffalo Wild Wings, also joined the community in 2011, along with a new retail location for Tractor Supply Company near Highway 12 and the Highway 25 bypass. Shafer said these and other businesses show Starkville‚Äôs commitment to increasing the quality of life for new citizens.
‚ÄúPeople in the Golden Triangle look at Starkville as a fun place to live,‚ÄĚ Shafer said. ‚ÄúNow, with new businesses coming into Starkville, we‚Äôre only growing. As long as we keep the population happy, I hopefully don‚Äôt think we‚Äôre going to see a downturn in population growth.‚ÄĚ
Finally, Maynard said, business has been growing outside the city limits. Green energy projects such as the Golden Triangle Regional Landfill‚Äôs new methane gas generator show Starkville to be a progressive community, he said.
Also, growth in Lowndes County‚Äôs industrial park benefits Starkville, Maynard said. For instance, thanks to state incentives approved in September, Calisolar is expected to bring 951 new jobs to the area when it sets up shop in Lowndes County.
‚ÄúA lot of the people who are working out there will be living in Starkville,‚ÄĚ Maynard said. ‚ÄúEMCC actually did a study with employers maybe a year or two ago, maybe three years ago, (and) they asked them where are they living. Of 10 employees out there, three were living in Starkville, two were living in Columbus and Lowndes County, two were living in Clay and West Point and then the other three were living outside the Golden Triangle.‚ÄĚ