At their Jan. 21 meeting, board members of the Pike County Economic Development District talked a lot about Gateway Industrial Park. Though nobody said so directly, it sure sounded like something positive is going on along Interstate 55.

The main thing is that a private company apparently is looking at construction of a 100,000 square-foot speculative building at Gateway.

This would give Pike County something new to show companies that are thinking about expanding or relocating. With a building already available, a business could be up and running more rapidly.

It worked for Pike County in 1997, when the economic development district assembled the money to build a “spec building” in its industrial park near Highway 51 in Magnolia. Aaron’s Rents now uses it as a distribution center.

As things stand now, and it’s very preliminary, the company looking at building in Gateway would retain ownership of the building and lease it to an occupant.

A second “spec building” of 75,000 square feet also is being considered.

Though  nothing is official, it’s definitely a good sign that private money sees an opportunity in Pike County. Investors will not pay for a building unless they think there’s a good chance of finding an industry to use it.

When something like that happens, it will be a nice kick-start for Gateway, whose 240 acres have been almost empty in the five years since property at the Fernwood exit was cleared — and since county supervisors raised property taxes to buy the land and prepare it.

Right now, Gateway’s gently rolling land is vacant except for a small, two-story building that’s home to Loggins Logistics. The best thing Gateway has going for it is that travelers on Interstate 55 get a good look at the property as they pass by. And the park also has what retiring economic development board member Dr. Shelby Smith described as “the nicest road in Pike County” running from top to bottom.

The park was supposed to be the home of a “man camp” for 500 oil industry workers who were expected to come to Southwest Mississippi during the fracking boom several years ago. But production in Amite and Wilkinson counties took a huge hit when oil prices crashed in late 2014, and the man camp never got built.

That was a blow, but now I think it’s better that it happened before any construction started. Then Gateway would have been left with a bunch of vacant buildings.

I drove the park’s road for the first time Friday, and it is indeed a nice one, as all newly paved roads are. The Mississippi National Guard plans to move its McComb headquarters to the park, but other than that, Gateway remains an excellent site in need of some occupants.

Pat Brumfield, the president of the economic development board, is confident that Gateway will provide jobs and property taxes for Pike County. He noted the site has all the infrastructure it needs, and also benefits from easy interstate access and the fact that the local airport is just minutes away.

“If we didn’t have the industrial park, we wouldn’t have much to show anybody,” Brumfield said. “I don’t know for sure who’s going to be on the property at Gateway park, but somebody eventually will, and it’s going to be beneficial.

“But if you don’t have any land or any buildings, I can tell you exactly who’s coming: Nobody.”

He’s right. But it sure is taking a long time for Gateway to produce. The people who have complained about higher taxes with no results have a legitimate beef.

While we wait, Pike County is creating other success stories. The plastic bag manufacturing industry is enjoying somewhat of a revival, especially in Summit. And GroGreen Solutions, which manufactures erosion control products, employs about 20 people in Osyka.

It may help to remember that Pike County is not the only rural community seeking new industry. I came across the Grenada Economic Development District’s website, which displays a wide-open 1,175-acre industrial park along I-55. That is five times the size of Gateway.

The property also includes an 84,000 square-foot spec building, much like the one being talked about down here. A private company apparently built it.

At least Pike County is in the game, but we do have some strong competition.

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