March 18, 2019  

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USM Trent Lott Center Compiles Quality of Place Report for Gulf Coast Business Council

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The Gulf Coast Business Council called upon the research expertise of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Trent Lott National Center for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship recently to produce a Quality of Place report for the region.

The report compared the Gulf Coast Metropolitan Statistical Area to 10 benchmark communities throughout the Southeast region of the U.S. to measure the quality of life. Research was compiled between August-November and the results were presented at the 2nd Annual State of the Coast Economy Symposium held last month.

The report was prepared by Dr. Shannon Campbell, Trent Lott National Center Director, along with economic development Research Analyst Heather Brown and graduate research assistants Jennifer Hooper, Jhai Keeton and Eric Wiggins.

Hooper, a Mobile, Ala., native noted the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s desire to become an area capable of attracting young talent that, in turn, will create economic growth for the region.

“Through our research we discovered that the Gulf Coast region has the necessary inputs to achieve regional economic growth; those inputs just need to be strategically capitalized on,” said Hooper. “The Gulf Coast region has low cost of living, combined with a low median home age and high vacancy rates, which provide opportunities for citizens to relocate to the area. The presence of outdoor recreation and premier dining establishments also diverse entertainment.”

Campbell says the report surmised that the Gulf Coast region can position itself to compete in attracting workforce and population by setting aspirational goals comparable to thriving communities.

For the purpose of the report, thriving communities were identified as Huntsville, Ala., Fayetteville, Ark., and Nashville, Tenn., because these southeastern metropolitan statistical areas ranked in the Top 11 for the U.S. News & World Report’s 2018 Best Places to Live. The metro areas of Baton Rouge, La., Pensacola, Fla., New Orleans, La., Lafayette, La., Mobile, Ala., Jackson, Miss., and Hattiesburg, Miss., were benchmark communities identified because those regions have similar geographic characteristics.

“The Mississippi Gulf Coast must win allegiance of the marketplace of where talented and creative people choose to live AND work – a place where other communities can only strive to accomplish,” said Campbell. “Cities and regions considered to be the best places to live offer a rich mixture of cultural, social, policy and artistic expression. This population of innovative and creative people can choose where they want to live and work, and they seek communities that offer a high combination of amenities and experience.”

All total, the report concluded that the Gulf Coast region has a competitive advantage in the following areas:

  • Coastal communities are growing at a faster pace than non-coastal regions in the United States and worldwide.
  • In 2017, the Mississippi Gulf Coast had 13.5 million personal trips, increasing 6.3 percent from 2015.  The Mississippi Gulf Coast grew about twice the national growth in destination travel, thus increasing its market share (Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast and Longwoods International).
  • Nationally, more people are choosing to live in urban versus rural areas.  This urban-bound migration trend has potential to help grow the Gulf Coast’s population of people such as those who remain single, marry later in life, raise smaller families, or choose cohabitation. 
  • Compared to the other regions, the Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Region has an advantage of having the lowest cost of living making it a more affordable place to live. 
  • The Gulf Coast Region’s overall economy is less competitive in terms of overall growth in size and quality of the economy as measured by worker earnings; how the economy is behaving; and dependence on government social assistance.
  • The Gulf Coast Region outperforms the two other Mississippi comparison cities (Jackson and Hattiesburg) in the categories of median earnings per worker and median household income.  The aspirational goal should be to benchmark the highest performing city of Huntsville, Alabama. 

Campbell says that the Gulf Coast region would be wise to target jobs in the innovation sector – a sector that produces goods or services mainly sold or traded outside the region.

“It is this sector in which a region’s prosperity is driven, and it is this sector that creates additional jobs in the non-traded sector,” said Campbell. “For example, attracting a new scientist, engineer, or mathematician to a city increases the demand for local services.”

Hooper echoes that summation by highlighting USM’s visibility on the Gulf Coast with its Gulf Park campus in Long Beach; Gulf Coast Research Lab in Ocean Springs, and marine programs at the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.

“The presence of USM on the coast gives the area research capabilities, particularly marine research, which is a high-paying industry,” said Hooper. “Capitalizing on this industry cluster would enhance the region’s tax base by creating more high-paying jobs.”

To see the full report, visit: https://irp-cdn.multiscreensite.com/1446ff30/files/uploaded/Gulf%20Coast%20Place%20Making%20and%20Talent%20Attraction%20Report.pdf