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Chamber announces intent to move into downtown Vicksburg development

As work continues on the dramatic transformation of the former Mississippi Hardware Building into the Thad Cochran Mississippi Center for Innovation & Technology (MCITy), the list of those businesses and organizations that will call the high-tech business incubator home is starting to take shape.

During a meeting Tuesday, the Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors approved a letter of intent that announces the chamber’s plan to move into MCITy once it is completed.

While the decision was specific to the chamber, it also signals that the Economic Development Foundation and the Warren County Port Commission — all part of the Vicksburg-Warren County Economic Partnership along with the chamber — would make similar decisions in the future.

“Other parts of the Partnership, on their own time, would have a conversation and make their own decisions. But, in the long-term, it will be all of them,” Partnership President and CEO Pablo Diaz said.

The chamber’s decision to move makes it the first business or organization to officially announce plans to move to the complex. Diaz said the move is crucial not just to the chamber’s mission of supporting area businesses, but to the community’s economic development efforts.

“The chamber’s board feels it is extremely important that economic development offices and chamber offices are inside MCITy,” he said. “There is a lot the community is planning to do in that building as it relates to a new economic development model. In this case, that model includes attracting more high-tech, more high-paying jobs connected to tech transfer and leveraging on the research and development that is done here by (U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center) and others.”

Diaz said the letter of intent is just that, a sign by the chamber that it plans to move into the facility. No lease or terms have been agreed to yet. He also said that while the chamber is among the first to send a letter of intent on a move to MCITy, others should coming soon.

“This is the time to get potential tenants to provide their letters of intent so that the space can be planned,” Diaz said. “They are going to be building the offices for most of the tenants who can sign up early. They will be building the spaces the way they like them. As we develop more tenants those spaces will be built and designed.”

The move not only puts the Chamber and other parts of the Partnership at the center of a new economic development model, but it also puts the Chamber in downtown Vicksburg and in a facility that will be among the most high-tech facilities in the region.

“From that point of view, when you have prospects come into your community you want to showcase the best of your community and showcase how we can attract talent, how we can have a vibrant downtown and a vibrant community that is cool, tech-oriented, historic, full of art, all the things our brand is. What better way to do that than to be right next to where the action is going to be,” Diaz said.

“(MCITy) is going to be the best class A space in the county for sure, and probably in 100 miles, in terms of the technology that is going inside, the layout, and more importantly, the whole concept is that this is a collider space, where innovation and economic development and technology transfer can translate into more jobs, higher-paying jobs for our entire region,” Diaz continued. “And, again, you want to be there. When we bring in investors, we don’t have to tell them about it in a presentation, we can walk them through it.”

Although the Chamber plans to move, it does not plan to sell its current office and property on Mission 66.

“This move would make our offices on Mission 66 available for rent. We will be looking for a tenant,” Diaz said. “We have a year so there’s no hurry.”

In August 2017, a group of developers who purchased the old Mississippi Hardware building on Washington Street unveiled plans for a $19 million project to convert the former garment factory and hardware building into a multi-floor innovation and tech transfer center to serve the Vicksburg area and the central Mississippi region.

Project developer Tim Cantwell said it is about one-fourth complete as work begins on the interior of the building to install the electrical wiring, sprinkler system and elevator system.

“The hard part will be done by December,” he said in a September interview with The Post. “We’re actually ahead of schedule on the project so far, which is tremendous.”

While the work continues, the officials involved with the program are seeking lease agreements and commitments from potential tenants to occupy the building once it’s completed in late 2021, Diaz said.

“As we move into 2021, hopefully, we can see our tenants moving in,” Diaz said in an earlier interview. “Then we are planning to start reaching out to potential smaller and medium-sized companies that might be seeking to work with ERDC or the Corps or the community in general but aligned with the high tech, engineering STEM (Science, Technology Engineering and Math)-related type of work.”

Diaz said the Partnership has received inquiries from companies about space. As of Wednesday, officials had confirmed there were four other businesses strongly considering relocating in MCITy.

During a ceremony in February, the development was named for the former U.S. Senator from Mississippi Thad Cochran.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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