Last week, for the first time in over a year, the Hancock Chamber convened over 250 guests in the same place at the same time! Promoted as “Business Over Brunch,” the Chamber’s Annual Meeting was repackaged as the Midyear Meeting, and expanded to include the State of County Address and the State of the Port & Harbor Commission. There was also a report from the Hancock County Community Development Foundation. You could feel the energy and excitement as guests mingled over brunch and live jazz at the beautiful ballroom at Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast.
As guests took their seats to enjoy their meal, Chamber President Jason Chiniche of Chiniche Engineering and Surveying started the meeting. The program was engaging and in depth, covering all aspects of county development, industrial recruitment and development, and community promotion and partnerships. Below are give key takeaways from each presentation.
State of the County Address
Presented by Board President and District 4 Supervisor Scotty Adam, the State of the County Address gave us a good snapshot of where the community is in time. The Hancock County Board of Supervisors is focused on the future and taking proactive steps to ensure that our roads and waterways can support the growth they are aiming to achieve.
1. Hancock County is one of Mississippi’s fastest growing counties.
The numbers don’t lie. In terms of population growth, revenue, assessed value, mill value, and the projected FY 21 budget – all of the figures are all trending up.
2. Floodplain management is a major challenge.
When you live in an area that is 46% in a flood zone, building can be a real challenge. However, the Board of Supervisors is being proactive and identifying sites all over the County that are experiencing floodplain encroachment. They are working with Waggoner Engineering on a plan to alleviate flooding due to stormwater and river crests.
3. They’ve appropriated over $10 million to improvement projects.
They’ve allocated $2.6 million in GOMESA Funds for County drainage and a $2 million match for City of Diamondhead Drainage Improvements, $5.2 million in grant funds/road and bridge revenue to complete 7 bridge upgrades, and $2 million in GOMESA funds to finish the McLeod Park expansion.
4. Pearlington experienced some private investment in 2020, which was very much appreciated.
The County will make strides along with this area to create spaces where people can gather. They cut the ribbon on a walking track outside the library in December 2020 and are working on a playground in the center of the track.
5. The small projects are as important to the Board of Supervisors as the large ones.
Small projects are often more widely utilized than the large ones that require millions of dollars to complete. For example, the Board of Supervisors replaced the roof at the Livestock Arena and improved the public boat launch in Jourdan River Shores.
State of the Port & Harbor Commission
It’s a new day at the Hancock County Port & Harbor Commission (HCPHC). On March 1, 2020, Bill Cotter was unanimously chosen as the new CEO after serving as Chief Operating Officer and Airport Director. He took over the reigns at a challenging time, but has already managed to set Hancock County on a course for success for 2021 and beyond.
1. Their recipe for success is sustainable and holistic.
HCPHC’s approach to economic development is deeply rooted in their commitment to the citizens of Hancock County. They encourage a team atmosphere at work and allow everyone to share in success. They also strive to meet the needs of current residents and existing industries first, while also recruiting new industry.
2. Their philosophy has resulted in big expansions in recent history.
Five companies at Port Bienville expanded during 2020, creating a whopping 400 new jobs and $45 million in investment.
3. Speaking of jobs, here’s how we stack up.
Nationwide, the manufacturing job market has grown 18% since 2018. Hancock County salaries are well above the average for Mississippi and only slightly below US averages.
-Hancock County average income: $22,774/year
-US average income: $28,555/year
-Hancock County median household income: $44,069/year
-US median household income: $53,482/year
-Average US manufacturing job wage: $80,000/year
4. They have a lot of projects going.
There are currently 50 planned projects, 18 of which are active and ongoing. Pending projects account for $3.9 billion in capital expenditures.
5. They are anxiously anticipating the completion of the Phil Bryant Aviation & Aerospace Academy.
Currently under construction under Pearl River Community College, students will be able to pursue the following programs at the site: Airframe & Propulsion Technology, Unmanned Arial Systems, Precision Manufacturing, Instrumentation, Airframe & Propulsion Technology, Industrial Electronics Technology, Precision Manufacturing, Computer Aided Design & Drafting and Business Management Technology.
Hancock Chamber Midyear Report
The Hancock Chamber, which also manages the Hancock County Community Development Foundation and the Partners for Stennis & Michoud, has worked throughout the pandemic to keep members informed and to support the business community. Executive Director Tish Williams gave a report of what the Chamber has been focused on and what we have planned for the rest of 2021.
1. We didn’t pass the gavel, but we do have a new Foundation President!
Jason Chiniche generously volunteered to serve another term as Chamber Board President. John Weibmer took over as President of the Hancock County Community Development Foundation Board. John is already off to a running start, and is actively developing strategies to grow the Foundation.
2. We have a new staff member.
Technically, Jessica Bilotta took over as Membership Services Manager eight months ago, following Sally Isaacs’ retirement. Jessica has a wealth of experience in fundraising and nonprofit management, and will accomplish great things with us.
3. 2020 was extremely difficult, but we’re proud of the work we produced.
2020 was also a year that forced us to grow professionally, embrace more technology and come up with innovative solutions to serve our members when everything was disrupted. We still held 23 ribbon cuttings, a plethora of virtual and in-person events and ran a whopping 11 marketing and communications campaigns last year. We finished the year in solid financial shape, grew our digital presence by leaps and bounds and even managed to grow our membership.
4. We will host the Salute to Business & Industry Gala in August.
We tried SO HARD to honor business and community leaders in 2020, but there just wasn’t a safe way to hold a public event. So, our 2020 honorees will be honored at the 2021 Gala on August 26th at Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast.
5. Our next project will be a Visitor Center at Buccaneer State Park.
Last year, we established a Visitor Lounge at Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company made possible through a $15,000 grant from the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area of the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). This year, we will establish at visitor kiosk at Buccaneer State Park thanks to another grant from DMR. This is important because this is the most heavily trafficked state park in the state and is a portal for small business customers. Thanks to Allison Anderson at unAbridged Architecture for managing this project for us.
Jody Compretta Person of Passion Award
The highlight of the meeting was presenting the Jody Compretta Person of Passion Award. We give this to someone every year who sets an example of what it means to be tenacious and determined and to always strive to advance Hancock County. We were humbled to present this year’s award posthumously to The Honorable Tommy Schafer, who passed away last year while serving as the first elected Mayor of Diamondhead. The award was presented by Starr Chapman, who received the award in 2020 and Kodie Koenenn, who worked alongside Mayor Schafer on the Diamondhead City Council and is now the Vice President of the Hancock County Board of Supervisors. Mayor Schafer’s wife, Camille, and daughter, Caroline, accepted the award.
The mission of the Hancock Chamber of Commerce is to promote the economic, social, and civic well-being of Hancock County with an emphasis on the promotion of industrial, tourism, retail, and agricultural business.
The Hancock Chamber of Commerce is the county’s largest business advocacy organization. Through our 1,500 member representatives, we bring together the collective vision of our area businesses, community partners, elected officials, young professionals, youth, educators, non-profit organizations and engaged citizens to work cooperatively for the future of our community. From every corner of the county, we’re working to create more successful businesses, work opportunities, and a better life for our citizens. It’s a team effort. By being a member of the Chamber, you are supporting those efforts year-round to promote the economic, social, civic and well-being of Hancock County.
The Chamber’s strength in this community, and with local, state and federal issues, rests on its members and their investment in the community and our organization. Get involved with the Chamber, buy local, and support our members in order to keep the Hancock County area a growing and thriving community. Through our customer development events, marketing opportunities, advocacy efforts and many other membership benefits, we believe it is the best investment you can make to attain success.
The Chamber has numerous programs benefiting our members. While some programs assist and promote business, other programs help develop local business leaders into community leaders. More than 500 Chamber members have graduated from the Chamber’s Leadership Hancock County program since its inception in 1996.
We encourage you to visit our website, engage with us on Facebook and Instagram, and download the “Voice of Business” Podcast on Apple, Google, or Spotify to learn about the wide range of projects we’re spearheading. If you’re already a member, you have a right to be proud. If you’re considering membership, we’d love to have you. Be part of the team that’s moving, shaking, and shaping the future of Hancock County.