EconSouth (Second Quarter 2004)


Jackson, Mississippi:
The Pearl on the Pearl


Capitol Building
Photo courtesy of Mississippi Development Authority,
Division of Tourism
Construction of Mississippi’s current capitol in Jackson was completed in 1903. Built for just over $1 million, the building’s construction was funded by back taxes that the Illinois Central Railroad paid to the state.

Jackson, Miss., is a dynamic Southern city. With a population approaching 450,000, the metro Jackson area is not as large as other Southeastern hubs such as Atlanta, Nashville, or Miami, but Jackson’s contributions to the region’s history, culture, and economy are just as important. Its diverse and changing economy reflects the adaptability and perseverance of its citizenry over the years in creating one of the South’s most vibrant and evolving areas.

Named after Andrew Jackson, who later became the nation’s seventh president, Jackson originated as a tiny trading post along the Pearl River. The site was chosen by three surveyors who were commissioned by the state legislature to find a suitable, more central location for the state capital, then located in Natchez. Jackson was authorized as the new capital in 1821.

Jackson grew slowly in its early years, but between 1861 and 1865 it witnessed tremendous economic and cultural change as a result of the Civil War. The city was occupied several times by Union troops and suffered severe damage.

The end of the war brought an end to the South’s slave-labor agricultural production, but the region’s economy still relied primarily on farming. The economies of Mississippi and of the Jackson area continued to be agriculturally based until World War II, when thousands of farm workers left for the military or took industrial jobs in the city. In the mid-20th century, Jackson played a central role in furthering the civil rights movement, and its economy matured along the way.

Jackson, Miss.  
Population: 184,256
(450,000, metro area)
Households: 67,841
Median Household Income: $30,414
County: Hinds
Source: U.S. Census Bureau (2000)

A diverse mix
Jackson today is a telecommunications, government, commercial, manufacturing, and distribution center. In and around Jackson, workers produce electrical equipment and machinery, processed food, and primary and fabricated metal products. The area’s agricultural producers still raise livestock, soybeans, cotton, and poultry.

Recent employment trends paint a vivid picture of where the metro Jackson economy stands today compared with the nation. Whereas national employment patterns point to growth in service sector jobs and stagnant or falling manufacturing payrolls, the Jackson area bucks this trend largely because of the contrasting fortunes of two large companies, WorldCom and Nissan.

Jackson’s Past
  • Prior to the arrival of European settlers, Native Americans of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes populated the area.
  • The spot where Jackson exists had been known as LeFleur’s Bluff, named for a French-Canadian trapper who built a trading post there in 1790.
  • During the Civil War, Jackson suffered severe damage, and its economy and social structures were destroyed.

The WorldCom corporate downfall is well publicized, but its economic impact on Jackson has not received as much press. According to payroll employment reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Jackson metropolitan statistical area (MSA) shed more than 2,000 information services jobs—including jobs in telecommunications services—during the last three years. Although information service employment numbers have fallen across the nation, the impact on the Jackson area has been much greater proportionally; information services employment has fallen nearly 23 percent since 2000 compared to a 15 percent decline for the nation as a whole.

Photo courtesy of Mississippi Development Authority,
Division of Tourism

For the Jackson area, the good news is that manufacturing has been a bright spot, also running counter to national trends. Nationally, manufacturing has shed more than 16 percent of its workforce since the end of 2000. Manufacturing’s growth in Jackson is attributable largely to the opening of the Nissan auto plant in Canton, a suburb of Jackson. In May 2003 the plant began production of the Quest minivan and now produces four vehicles. The presence of this facility has spurred the growth of firms that supply the plant; according to the Mississippi Development Authority, the state has 45 such firms. As a result, the Jackson MSA has added 1,600 manufacturing jobs, an increase of 9 percent, since the end of 2000, according to the BLS. During the same period, the Jackson area’s net gain in manufacturing jobs is more than 3,000—a 19 percent increase.

Planning for more growth
Local analysts see the impact of the Nissan plant as very positive, “but employment gains in manufacturing will likely level off in the near future,” according to Adrianne Turner, director of research for the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce. “Jackson is traditionally a service center, and we expect service employment to recover and begin to add jobs in the near future,” she said. “This is especially the case in the health care industry.” The Jackson area employs 23,000 people in health care and related fields, or 10 percent of the city’s workforce. Health care jobs have grown nearly 10 percent over the last four years, according to BLS statistics, a trend largely consistent with the nation’s.

Jackson’s future depends on its ability to manage and cope with change. Based on its citizens’ proven ability to adapt to cultural and economic challenges, the city’s future appears solid.

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