Lawmakers say Reeves isn’t focusing economic development in majority-Black regions

Days after Republican Gov. Tate Reeves pledged to be a governor for all Mississippians, several Democratic lawmakers said Reeves uses his power to invest in certain parts of the state while ignoring others.

The governor demonstrated his favoritism just this week, the legislators said in a Wednesday interview with Mississippi Today, when Reeves called a special session to ask lawmakers to spend $350 million in state funds to finalize an economic development deal in north Mississippi’s Marshall County.

READ MORE: Reeves asks lawmakers to appropriate $350 million in state funds to Marshall County EV battery deal

The legislators say none of the state’s recent economic projects have gone toward communities west of Interstate 55, an area where the Mississippi Delta and population hubs of Black citizens are located, or to the state’s capital city.

“Not taking anything away from Marshall County, but I do believe the impact of having 1,500 or 2,000 jobs west of I-55 would change the whole status of this state,” Democratic Rep. John Hines of Greenville said.

The Delta remains one of the most impoverished places in the nation. The region’s hospitals are at risk of closing, and its citizens are continuing to leave for other areas of the state and other states, according to U.S. Census data.

The Democratic officials argue that economic investment like the Marshall County project would give a major boost to west Mississippi, an area struggling to survive.

Rep. Robert Johnson III, the Democratic leader of the House, believes the Delta and southwest Mississippi, despite disinvestment, has an educated workforce that can staff major industries and an infrastructure system to transfer any goods produced — if only state leaders would give the area a chance. 

“You’ve got I-55 to the east, you’ve got the largest river in the country to the west and you’ve got railways to go back and forth,” Johnson said. “It makes more sense to develop jobs in that area where you’ve got an infrastructure in place.” 

The multibillion-dollar project on the table this week is, instead, scheduled to be constructed at the Chickasaw Trails Industrial Park near the Tennessee state line, where half of the state’s proposed investment is planned to go toward infrastructure development. 

The Mississippi Development Authority, the economic agency directly under Reeves’ control, recently invested around $1.1 million in the Chickasaw Trails center, as well as over $15 million in 12 other industrial parks. None of those sites are located in the Delta, Hinds County or in west Mississippi.

“At the end of the day, you look at the population west of I-55, and that’s almost one-fourth of the state’s population,” Democratic Rep. Bryant Clark of Pickens said. “And they’re being totally ignored.”

Corey Custer, deputy chief of staff to Reeves, said in a Wednesday statement that the governor supports investing in all areas of the state, including the Delta, Hinds County and communities west of I-55.

“Private companies — not state government — determine which sites best meet their needs,” Custer said. “This project will help strengthen our state’s economy, which is a benefit to all Mississippians. Gov. Reeves will continue to use every tool at his disposal to bolster every region of our state.”

This is the second type of economic package that Reeves has called on lawmakers into a special legislative session to finalize. In November 2022, he signed legislation into law that gave money and tax incentives to benefit a Steel Dynamics expansion in Columbus, also located in northeast Mississippi.

The governor, at a Tuesday press conference, said the public can expect more state economic development projects to be announced in the future, though he did not give a specific timeline or disclose which areas of the state would be impacted. 

Democratic Reps. Fabian Nelson of Jackson and Daryl Porter of Summit said on Wednesday if the governor pledges to unify the state along partisan and racial lines, then he should follow through and implement an economic plan that includes all areas of the state.   

“It’s been said that Mississippi is open for business, but I think we need to define what part of Mississippi is open for business,” Nelson said.

READ MORE: In 2023, Reeves limited state business with China. Today, he’s requesting state funds for a Chinese company.

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