Flaggs: City should use ERDC to attract other businesses

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The city of Vicksburg needs to take better advantage of the potential offered by the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center to attract small, high-tech businesses, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said Monday.

“We haven’t had any spinoff of small business as a result of having ERDC, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Vicksburg District) and the (Mississippi) River Commission,” he said. “What we’ve been doing is relying on the retail spinoff to be the economic engine for the city, and I think that’s backwards. The best way and the fastest way to grow, outside tourism, is small business growth and development. I think we can create these opportunities for Vicksburg. That’s something we haven’t maximized.

“Retail is very important, but small business creates more jobs and quicker,” he said.

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Flaggs’ comments came before the start of Monday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen as he described his trip to Dayton, Ohio, with Austin Golding, Warren County Port director Wayne Mansfield, Flaggs’ assistant, Brian Boykins, and representatives from ERDC, the Mississippi Development Authority, Gov. Phil Bryant’s office, Mississippi State University and staff from U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

The group went to Dayton to study how the city’s partnership with the U.S. Air Force Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base has helped the city’s economic development. The lab, which Flaggs said has a $205 billion budget and 26,000 employees, is the Air Force counterpart to ERDC. He called the visit phenomenal and informative.

“Dayton has developed the city around the Air Force Lab, and they have a good relationship with the lab,” Flaggs said. “Part of the research center’s (lab’s) mission is enhancing small business, something in my opinion we have not done in the city of Vicksburg. We have not created a spinoff of businesses behind ERDC, which is our largest employer in the city.”

He said he wants to meet with ERDC, MDA and other state officials about an economic development plan involving ERDC.

Wayne Mansfield said developing a program based around ERDC “is absolutely something we’re going to look into; how can we tap into the potential of recruiting those small businesses that potentially have partnership capabilities with ERDC.

“To take advantage of that asset we’re going to have to adjust a few things in order to be competitive in that type of arena,” he said, adding it meant finding buildings and property for businesses, and incentives.

“ERDC realizes the need for cooperation to bring them here,” Mansfield said.

Besides the city’s efforts to recruit small businesses, Flaggs said the city needs to move forward with the 10-year plan he presented the board in May.

The plan sets out a system of road and utility improvements, including building a road from U.S. 61 South to Mississippi 27.

“That’s a part of what we’ve already planned,” he said. “We just have to look for a way to fund it.

I’m absolutely convinced the federal government will help us in the funding along with the state in this.”

He believes federal money will be available for the project because it would be associated with homeland security.

“The federal government, as it relates to homeland security and transportation, would love to have a road from 61 (South) to 27, to relieve some of the pressure of I-20 in case there’s a disaster at Grand Gulf,” he said.

“We’ve got to step out and meet the challenges at the same time we grow the city,” Flaggs said, adding he wants Aldermen Willis Thompson and Michael Mayfield to go to Dayton and see that city’s operation.

“I want to do everything I can to develop the city,” he said.


About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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