'Megasites' the secret to Mississippi's job growth success, but can it work in Erie?

State and local leaders visit Mississippi to discover ways to attract jobs to Pennsylvania. 

Erie has seen manufacturing jobs decline, but it's looking to rural Mississippi for guidance, where several communities have turned the tide.  State Senators Dan Laughlin and Scott Wagner were among a small group of local economic development experts that visited Columbus, Mississippi Thursday. 

Laughlin became interested in visiting the region after watching a 60 Minutes story about Joe Max Higgins' efforts for development.  Higgins is credited with attracting more than 6,000 jobs and billions in investment to east central Mississippi.  

Higgins tells us, "We've been successful in putting together what we call, 'megasites'. You see one that we're standing on right now; 1,400-acre site. We've been able to put these sites together, master plan them and get these very large industries to come in."

Officials say Erie county would have its own take on the ideas because not as many large expanses of land are readily available for development here.  Jake Rouch of the Erie Regional Chamber of Growth Partnership was part of the visiting group.  Rouch says, "With a lot more undulation or topography to deal with... finding a 1,000 and 1,500-acre plots of land is not as doable as it is down there."

The job creation process will be different for Erie, but he says it's on the right path.  "The challenges are going to be capital and it's going to be unified leadership behind what is it that we specifically want to do. And I think those are all discussions that we're having at the present time."

Laughlin says, "He indicated that this is repeatable. So, I have high hopes that we can share in his success up there."

The group spent a day learning about Columbus, Mississippi's economy, but because the obstacles facing Erie County are different, they've invited Higgins to come to Erie to get a first-hand look.  That visit is expected to happen early next year. 


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