Claiborne hopeful governor’s plan will help economy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 4, 2000

Glenn “Bo” Savage sits in the truck he drives from his home in Pattison to Cooper Lighting in Vicksburg daily for a job he can’t get in his home county. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

PORT GIBSON Claiborne County resident Glenn “Bo” Savage has spent the past 10 years commuting more than 70 miles a day for a job.

“When you’ve got to work and you need a job, you take what you can get,” he said.

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Now with Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s new economic plan, he hopes to work closer to home.

“Claiborne County is a good place to live, but we just don’t have the work,” Savage said.

The Pattison native has spent the past four years driving to Warren County where he works for Cooper Lighting.

While guidelines for Musgrove’s economic development program adopted during a special legislative session on economic development last month are still being written, the Advantage Mississippi Initiative is generating interest in Claiborne and other Mississippi counties as well as outside the state.

Sherry Vance, communication director for the new Mississippi Development Authority which was the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development until last month said that since the Legislature passed the new economic strategy, the MDA’s main mission has been to market the program outside the state with the goal of attracting new businesses and jobs.

“We will continue to market this to put us in the forefront of economic development,” she said.

Vance called the initiative a “tool box” for counties to use to bring home more and better-paying jobs.

The tools include tax exemptions for companies that locate in the one of the 20 poorest counties in the state. In the Vicksburg area, those include Claiborne, Sharkey and Issaquena.

Other inducements offer tax breaks to companies that pay more than the state average wage.

Claiborne County’s unemployment and wages qualified it for the classification.

“If I could find a job in Claiborne County, I would come back now,” Savage said.

Statewide unemployment figures for August show that 10.5 percent of Claiborne County’s civilian labor force is without work. That represents about 340 people, according to the Mississippi Employment Security Commission.

Claiborne was ranked 72nd of the state’s 82 counties in joblessness. Sharkey recorded 10 percent, or 240 residents, unemployed, and Issaquena had 11.1 percent, or 70 people, without jobs.

What the unemployment figures do not reflect are the number of residents forced to seek work outside the county.

Savage graduated from Claiborne County High School in 1988 and went on to get a degree from Hinds Community College, but he still could not find work at home. Today, 10 of his high school classmates work at Cooper Lighting.

“You’ve got a hundred people looking for a job and only one opening,” Savage said, “You’ve got a lot of people here who will work, who have to work outside the county.”

Claiborne County Administrator Clovis Reed said he hopes the MDA will bring jobs and people like Savage back to the county. He said the tax incentives are another tool for the county to attract industry.

“It gives companies an advantage to locate here rather than Hinds or Rankin counties,” Reed said.

Today, the largest employers in Claiborne County are Alcorn State University, with about 700 employees, and Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, with about 750 employees

“We’re making a long-term commitment to the prosperity of Claiborne County,” Reed said.

John Cloy, owner of Port Gibson Hardware and Lumber for 10 years, is another who supports the governor’s initiative. He said a new plan for the state’s economic future has been long overdue.

“It’s for the whole area,” Cloy said. “Not just Claiborne County will benefit.”

The governor is expected to discuss his plans for Claiborne County during an appearance Thursday at the Port Commission’s inaugural Salute to Industry ceremony.

But even with the governor’s plan and his appearance Thursday, people like Alton Hollingsworth feel more must be done.

“We’ve got to show outsiders that we are committed to making Port Gibson a place they will want to be a part of,” said Hollingsworth, the manager of the Port Gibson Main Street program.

Savage began working on a farm when he was 12 years old. With eight sisters and three brothers, every little bit was a help to the family, he said.

“We didn’t have much money,” Savage said. And, “I got a chance to help out my younger brothers and sisters.”

Terry Savage, 27, is one of Glenn Savage’s three siblings making the daily commute to Warren County for work. He and two of their sisters also work for Cooper Lighting.

“If we could get more businesses, I think it would bring more people to this town,” Terry Savage said.

Meanwhile, residents of Claiborne and other rural counties are considering how future transportation changes will affect their areas.

“If you look at areas where roads have been improved, it has helped,” Reed said. “It definitely has an impact.”

Mississippi Department of Transportation officials have been planning to four lane U.S. 61, the main north-south artery along the Mississippi River, as part of the 1987 Four-Lane Highway Program.

Citing Port Gibson’s historical significance and beauty, MDOT officials eliminated widening U.S. 61 along its current path through Port Gibson. Proposed routes to the east and west have been criticized by officials who fear that taking a major flow of traffic away from the city would have a detrimental effect on the economy.

Meanwhile, Savage commutes 35 miles each way and in two years, he said, he hasn’t missed a day of work. And though he said he likes his job at Cooper, he would still prefer to be closer to home.

“Overtime is a must for a person with a family to make up for the cost of commuting,” Savage said.