Carson’s visit viewed as major event in potential economic development

Published 8:29 pm Thursday, December 20, 2018

Local officials see Thursday’s visit of Vicksburg Forest Products LLC by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson and Gov. Phil Bryant as a major event for the city with the potential to lure more local investment.

Vicksburg Forest Products on North Washington Street was one of two Mississippi opportunity zones visited Thursday by Carson, who is chairman of the Opportunity and Revitalization Council organized by President Donald Trump.

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“This is a very significant day for Vicksburg, to not only have the secretary here, but have the governor here, too, to put us on the map to show that this opportunity zone can work and it works because all the tax credits associated with this. We look forward to more,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said.

Vicksburg Forest Products LLC, which is headquartered in Jackson, used opportunity zone funds to buy the Anderson-Tully Mill in May, saving 125 jobs.

Vicksburg leads the way

Carson called the plant “ just an incredible sight here, because this is one of the first places to actually take advantage of the opportunity zones and opportunity funds. Had it not been for that program, it would very likely that this place would have closed down and those jobs gone away.”

The important thing about the opportunity zones, he said, is it’s an inducement for long-term economic investment in economically distressed areas.

He said the Opportunity and Revitalization Council “allows 13 federal agencies to work together to focus their energies and their programs on creating the right kinds of economic opportunities for our citizens, because ultimately what we want to do is create a strong economic base for the entire country.

“We can’t do that when we have large areas of the country that are economically neglected and we want to provide the incentives for those long-term investments.”

The tax break incentives offered through the opportunity zone program, Carson said, allow investors to protect their investments, “But more importantly, those parts of our country which no one has had any interest in investing in suddenly have a real inducement for investing in those areas.

“That creates an economic base and strengthens us as a nation and providing good paying jobs.”

Bryant said Mississippi has 100 economic opportunity zones, adding, “We were the first state to be there at the Department of Treasury asking how we might qualify, asking what were the standards and rules were going to be. We’re very happy that here in Vicksburg Vicksburg Forest Products was one of the first entities to benefit from it.”

He said state officials are trying to educate Mississippi companies about the opportunity zones “because it almost seems to good to be true. The system the present congress has developed for opportunity zones are easy to access and they bring money directly to companies to invest capital gains into the treasury and receive the benefits of that.”

Investing in area

Flaggs said Carson’s visit to the city should serve as an incentive to invest in the area.

“This should be the model for the nation,” he said. “This is the model for the opportunity zone. This is the first in the state and maybe in the nation. We’ve been able to model it to a point where the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development wants to come see it. This is job creation 101. I’m glad to have him here.”

Pablo Diaz, president and CEO of the Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership, agreed.

“I think it’s (Carson’s visit) going to be very helpful; it’s going to attract more investment because there is more reason for investors to actually come to our region, and I would like to remind everyone, investors inside and outside of Vicksburg, that we have three different opportunity zones in this community; that’s more than most communities in the state.”

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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