In late September, the Columbia Parachute Company announced it was expanding operations, making a $300,000 corporate investment, creating 26 new jobs and moving.
The company, which manufactures government parachutes, will occupy 11,000-square feet at an existing facility in the Marion County BusinessPlex, formerly known as the Columbia Training School.
“There is a tremendous amount of history associated with this facility,” District Manager Benny Prestridge said. “To see it get a facelift almost 100 years after it opened is very exciting for this part of the state.”
The Columbia Training School opened in 1918, two years after Gov. Theodore Bilbo emphasized the need for an industrial school for delinquent and wayward boys and girls. For nearly 90 years, the facility functioned as a part of the Department of Youth Services and then later in the Mississippi Department of Human Services.
The state ceased operations at the facility in 2008 and in September 2013, county officials approached Prestridge about Mississippi Power taking over the facility’s electrical distribution system. Prestridge and Customer Services Distribution Manager Paul Harrison began evaluating the system and determining the best approach for the company and the county.
“We mapped the system to determine its age and value,” Prestridge said. “In June of 2014 we signed an agreement to take ownership of the main body of the system which already had tenants ready to open for business. Then we started working on the parts of the system that needed to be upgraded.”
The transfer was completed in September 2014 with seven buildings now occupied and metered by Mississippi Power. In addition, 16 LED street lights were installed on the main road that winds through the 534-acre industrial park.
“These parks and available land place Marion County in a unique competitive position in seeking new businesses,” Jerry Frazier, Marion County Development Partnership president and Mississippi Power retiree, said. “The BusinessPlex has tremendous potential for a variety of activities and the way Mississippi Power treats customers only increases that potential.”
Stacy Lester, growth initiatives project manager, and Mark Weldy, industrial marketing specialist, worked with officials from the Columbia Parachute Company who were looking to expand, but also wanted to stay in Marion County.
“We supported Jerry’s team in the initial meetings and Mark helped design their electric service plan,” Lester said. “This project is a great example of several groups putting the customers’ needs first.”
While this move is big news in and around Columbia, Prestridge believes it’s the beginning of a positive turn, economically speaking, for Marion County.
“Construction is scheduled to start in late December on the Pearl River Interpretive Plaza and the old New Orleans Furniture building, which closed several years ago, now has two new tenants on the property,” Prestridge said. “We’re excited about the future of the Marion County BusinessPlex and we’re hoping to have even more good news to report in 2015 and beyond.”