150 business, industry and governmental leaders from Hancock County met on May 12th at Hollywood Casino for the unveiling of the results of the surveys of the 30 largest industrial companies and a cross section of 30 of the County’s service and tourism sector businesses. The survey is part of the new Business Retention and Expansion Program launched by the Hancock County Port & Harbor Commission with support from the Hancock Chamber of Commerce and the Hancock Community Development Foundation.
Combined, the companies surveyed employ over 3,500. Over the last three years, these companies have collectively added 220 jobs. More than half of the companies plan to invest $247.6 million in expansions and are expected to create more than 2,300 new jobs.
The surveys solicited perceptions of quality in dozens of different community attributes to define the overall business climate of Hancock County. Overall the County scored extremely well and in many instances well above national averages. This was particularly true in the areas of emergency services, K-12 education and economic development agencies. Some areas of improvement included access to quality childcare, particularly for shift workers and labor availability for low to mid skill workers.
“Once our largest industrial employers find a quality employee, they rate them as highly productive and stable. However, when positions open up, finding available employees is a problem. To address this we are working with area educators, workforce development professionals and industry human resource managers to craft a solution,” said Bill Cork, CEO of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission. “Our goal is to be nationally recognized as an ACT certified Work Ready Community.”
Members of the Hancock Chamber voiced support of the initiative. A team was recently organized, led by Bob Huet, a retired executive from Dow Chemical. Their mission is to formulate a white paper to look at the feasibility of establishing a Career Center for Hancock County. Current initiatives include a partnership with the Hancock Library that provides citizens with access to computers and digital skills through Adobe Creative Cloud, TinkerCAD, and lynda.com software training. An outreach program to become a drug free community is already under way through the Hancock Resource Center.
Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock Chamber reported that survey participants also recommended the community focus on community development planning, including sign regulations and hospitality training. To address one of these issues, a Coast Champions hospitality training program will be coordinated by Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast on June 19th at the Leo Seal Center at Hancock Bank in Waveland. The public is invited to participate.
Attendees were invited to be a part of the Hancock Chamber Small Business Development Council, a new advocacy arm of the Chamber. The Council plans to support workforce initiatives, continue business retention and expansion programs, and support government to develop residential and commercial incentives to attract investors. The Council also plans to interview another 30 companies in the coming year.
“Small business is the backbone of the nation’s economy,” said Stephen Schruff of Mississippi Power who chairs the Chamber’s Small Business Council. “This is our focus—working in cooperation with our government partners.”
The Chamber is also working with governmental partners to define the economic development role of the Chamber for the community. The Chamber and Community Development Foundation would like to be a resource to government to focus on smaller commercial and residential projects below $5 million, while the Port and Harbor Commission continues to build on its legacy of large scale, asset-based industrial development. The Hancock Chamber would like to be a resource to government to help market the area to grow the small business sector and increase the tax base for government.
The first step the Chamber is taking is to support government to research the region and provide information to help them define incentives and exemptions the cities and county can offer for residential and commercial developments. This effort is being led by Regan Kane of John McDonald Realty. To gain useful information they have already researched options other cities offer and on June 29th there will be a Hancock County Realtor’s Summit to gain information on obstacles facing residential and commercial development. There will also be a discussion on tools needed to market available residential, commercial and in-line properties. On July 13th there will be a First-Time Homebuyers Session hosted by the new Hancock Chamber’s Young Professionals and the Hancock Resource Center, sponsored by John McDonald Realty, to spur residential sales.
The Chamber has also launched a new government relations program to open lines of communications with all governmental partners at the local, state and federal level. This is chaired by Rick Fayard of AMR. The Chamber plans to continue the Annual DC Fly-in set for May 23-26 to meet with members of Congress. Each March, they participate in a Capitol Day to meet with the Mississippi Legislature. The Chamber will also serve as a resource partner to the Hancock County Council of Governments.
If you would like to attend the next meeting set for Friday, November 10th, contact the Hancock Chamber at 228-467-9048 or go online to www.hancockchamber.org to register. Tickets are $50 per person and table sponsorships are also available.