City and county should look at ways to take advantage of ERDC

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Mayor George Flaggs Jr. Monday called on Vicksburg and Warren County to take better advantage of area’s No. 1 employer, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — specifically the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center.

“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, adding the city needs to move away from targeting retail business as key economic development resource.

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“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.

Those comments beg the question: Why hasn’t the city — and the county — focused more effort on the Corps and ERDC as a job incubator?

ERDC is a leader in research and development for the military, and in some cases the products it develops eventually find their way into the civilian sector, like improvements in building materials and computer technology. And its potential as an incubator for small businesses, especially high tech companies, is unlimited.

Cities with similar major employers have done so.

They’ve identified their major employers and worked to bring in companies that can provide goods and services to the major company.

As Flaggs pointed out that’s what Dayton, Ohio has done with its relationship with the U.S. Air Force Research Lab.

“Dayton has developed the city around the Air Force Lab, and they have a good relationship with the lab,” he said. “Part of the research center’s (lab’s) mission is enhancing small business.”

Closer to home, Pascagoula and Jackson County have followed similar efforts in connection with Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding, which is a major defense contractor for Navy ships, and Meridian has worked to attract companies and contractors with products and services that can be used by Naval Air Station Meridian.

Warren County Port Director Wayne Mansfield, who is also the county’s economic development director, agrees developing an economic development program 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 means finding buildings and property for businesses, and incentives.

Like the Vicksburg National Military Park, ERDC and the Corps are crown jewels for the city, and our local officials need to do a better job taking advantage of these organizations as magnets to attract other business to the area. They are economic development assets we can no longer afford to ignore.