April 25, 2018  

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USM Receives Commemorative Brick from Marion County Leadership

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Representatives from the Marion County Development Partnership presented a commemorative brick to the University on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

The University of Southern Mississippi received a commemorative brick from the Marion County Development Partnership during a special ceremony held Tuesday, Dec. 12 on the Hattiesburg campus.

The brick is a remnant from Reliance Manufacturing of Columbia, the first company recruited to locate a manufacturing operation in Mississippi using modern business attraction methods.

While it was common practice in the early 1920s for a local community to provide a start-up loan to a recruited company, Columbia Mayor Hugh White went beyond common practice by inventing a loan loss guarantee, or insurance, indirectly made by local government that allowed a bank to fund a loan that it perceived as being risky (White & Kotval, 2013).

The brick is on display in the Trent Lott National Center of the main campus which is also home to the nation’s oldest Master of Science degree in Economic Development (MSED). The MSED program prepares students to become professional economic developers, a career field that is growing as more communities and organizations recognize the need for targeted recruitment of new economic opportunities.

In 1929, Mayor White recognized the need to engage in industrial recruiting to offset declining lumber mill occupations. He encouraged the Commercial Club, now the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, to begin industrial recruiting. The Chamber hired Chicago-based Fantus, the first site selection consulting firm, to recruit Reliance Manufacturing to locate an apparel manufacturing operation in Columbia. This guaranteed 300 new jobs and would give a $1 million push into the local economy over the next 10 years.

To guarantee the funding of the new factory, many people in the community signed promissory notes which were payable over the next several months. White received a loan from bankers in New Orleans for the whole amount needed to start the construction project. “The modern brick building Reliance Manufacturing soon occupied belonged to the people and represented their expectations for future prosperity.” (Connie Lester; Economic Development in the 1930s: Balance Agriculture with Industry, 2004).

More than 1,500 women applied for the first 300 available jobs. White opened a training school where Reliance supervisors taught the new workers the necessary skills to work in a textile plant. The factory anticipated it would take more than 10 years to fulfil the employment and wage promises they made; yet, they achieved their goal in just four years.

To this day, the Reliance Plant has been in continuous operation since the 1930s, consistently one of Marion Counties top employers. It has experienced changes in ownership and product emphasis and operates today as Zodiac Aerospace, a leading manufacturer of aero safety and recovery systems.

Hugh White was eventually elected Governor of Mississippi, and in his first year of office (1936) moved the legislature to pass the Mississippi Industrial Act. Governor White’s lawyers invented what was to become the most commonly used economic development finance too l— the public purpose tax-exempt economic development bond. The Act influenced what has become common practice where the state sponsors and directs economic development programs and localities provide the financing and retain local land use and regulatory control.

Similar to the New Deal plan, White’s program was called the Balance Agriculture with Industry program proposed the idea of “state sponsorship and control” with “local financing and operation.” White assigned six Jackson lawyers with the task of drafting a bill that did not violate the prohibited use of credit of the state to support industrial development.

The legislature passed the Mississippi (Balance Agriculture with) Industrial Act in 1936 that “empowered the commission to issue certificates of public convenience and necessity that allowed cities and countries to hold bond elections to finance land purchases and plant construction” (Lester). The commission had to lessen the initial 3,800 interested manufacturing firms down to 60.

Twelve of these firms established plants across Mississippi including the following: Ingalls Shipyard, Jackson County Mills, W.G. Avery Body Co., Grenada Industries, Armstrong Tire and Rubber Co., I.B.S. Manufacturing Co., Winona Bedspread Co., Real Silk Hosiery Mill, Ellisville Hosiery Mills, and Hattiesburg Hosiery Co.

In 1944, the chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, E.J. Hopkins, wrote an analysis of the Balancing Agriculture with Industry Act praising its favorable effect on industrial growth of the Mississippi economy. He also suggested the BAWI Act “anticipated a revival of the scheme as a model for the post-World War II economic development.” From 1939 to 1942, wages from the plants increased from $1.4 million to $17.9 million for a total of $980,500 of public bonds.

Many of the traditional manufacturing plants attracted solely female farm labor due to the low-wage paying jobs except for Ingalls Shipyard and Armstrong Tire and Rubber plant. Today Ingalls continues to bring economic growth to Mississippi by remaining the largest manufacturing employer in the state.