Health Care in Hancock County: Getting into the Zone
By Dwayne Bremer
Jan 10, 2014, 17:46
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant has identified the Bay-Waveland area as a Healthcare Industry Zone, with Hancock Medical as its epicenter. Bryant foresees rapid development and job creation in the county’s future.
A new incentive program aimed at bringing more healthcare-related businesses to Mississippi has huge potential for Hancock County, but attracting them here will be a challenge, officials said Thursday.
In 2012, Gov. Phil Bryant announced the Healthcare Industry Zone Act.
The act allows for certain businesses to receive grants, tax breaks, and other perks if they build within a five-mile radius of a "Healthcare Zone."
There are more than a dozen of the zones in Mississippi, including one in Bay St. Louis centered around Hancock Medical Center.
"There are going to be a lot of communities competing for the same businesses," Bay St. Louis Mayor Les Fillingame said Thursday. "This is a nice opportunity for us, but we have to put together a good game plan to try to attract the businesses."
Under the act, businesses such as medical supply companies, biologics, lab testing facilities, medical product distribution warehouses, pharmacies and research companies are eligible for government perks.
Another development which is allowed under the act is construction of workforce housing, something Hancock County already has an abundance of, officials said.
Fillingame said the city and county will still have authority to approve or reject any project associated with the Healthcare Zone Act.
"These projects and developments will still have to abide by local zoning ordinances," Fillingame said. "Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Diamondhead, and the county will still retain oversight."
Fillingame and other local political, civic, and business leaders have formed a task force to assist in Hancock County's implementation of the Healthcare Zone.
The task force met this week, but nothing was officially decided, Fillingame said.
He said recruiting businesses and developments to the area will most likely be the responsibility of the Port and Harbor Commission, the Chamber of Commerce, and Hancock Medical Center.
Port and Harbor Executive Director Ashley Edwards said Wednesday that his commission will do everything it can to assist.
"I feel that this could be a huge benefit for everyone in the county," Edwards said. "Not only can it bring jobs, but new businesses and infrastructure."
Hancock County Board of Supervisors President Lisa Cowand, another task force member, said last month that local leaders are waiting for a permanent HMC director to be named before moving forward on the Healthcare Zone.
Last month, supervisors approved a 30-day extension of the contract with Ochsner to run HMC.
The agreement expires this month and a decision on the future of the hospital should be made by the next supervisors meeting on Jan. 20, officials said.