While most people who live on the Mississippi coast are aware of both Port Bienville and Stennis International Airport, they’re not familiar with the facilities’ assets - or their economic potential.
Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission (HCPHC) executive director Ashley Edwards is changing that.
In fact, Edwards is planning for Hancock County to soon be a name that’s recognized in global corporate circles. As a former business journalist, he understands that it’s mainly a matter of getting the word out - the two facilities, both managed by HCPHC, sell themselves.
For instance, the port boasts a 3800-acre industrial site connected to the Intercoastal Waterway. Three major interstates run within a stone’s throw. The industrial park is served by a shortline railroad that ties into the CSX lines.
The airport’s creds are equally impressive. The grooved and lighted runway is one of the longest in the Southeast, stretching for over a mile and a half. It’s strong enough to support super-sized aircraft like the Antinov, the largest cargo plane in the world. The new 24,000 square foot hanger and 10,000 square foot terminal - representing over a $7 million investment - give Hancock County a multi-level menu of benefits to offer potential investors.
“People don’t realize what an incredible set of industrial sites and assets we have here in Hancock County,” says Edwards. “Our infrastructure gives us a major competitive advantage to leverage. And we’re beginning to have a lot of success targeting industries that fit our profile.”
The director explains that a substantial growth sector in the world economy now revolves around the emergence of new technologies that convert natural gas into products or liquid fuel. Hancock County’s proximity to the Gulf’s oil and gas production, and the fact that several natural gas pipelines run through the county, make it a natural home for those types of companies.
The marketing strategy is paying off. Edwards says that several “deals are in the pipeline,” while in the coming months, HCPHC will be making several major announcements about new investments coming into the county. He points to Jindal Tubular as an example. The company purchased the former PSL plant at the port’s industrial park for $104 million and are investing another $10 million to expand it.
“Hancock County has a high quality of life and a low-cost of doing business,” says Edwards. “And we have the availability and the infrastructure to make the processes of any company more efficient.”
Stennis Space Center (SSC) is another major selling point for investors considering Hancock County, even though it’s not under the purview of HCPHC. In addition to being an aerospace and scientific hub, the unique federal and corporate “city,” happens to be the working home of the largest concentration of rocket scientists and oceanographers in the world. Edwards reports that fact alone makes firms “perk up and take notice.” He points to Rolls Royce, Rocketdyne and Selex-Galileo as a few of the internationally known companies that are taking advantage of the synergy that occurs at SSC, where the corporate world works side by side with the community of scientists and researchers.
But attracting new businesses is only one important part of the county’s successful economic strategy, according to Edwards. The second critical factor is retaining and expanding firms already located in the county. The types of companies already hosted by the HCPHC currently are extremely diverse. In addition to the international giants, the commission also works to support smaller home-grown firms like Lazy Magnolia Brewery and Hotsticks (which manufactures drumsticks that are shipped all over the world).
“When visitors come here and tour our facilities, they’re in awe,” says Edwards. “I wish I could spend every day just telling the story of Hancock County and all we have to offer.”