Memphis Business Journal04/09/04DESOTO GAINING COMPETITIVE EDGE OPINIONDeSoto County is at it again, seeking another avenue to enhance its ability to attract new industry, provide jobs for its growing population and add to its tax base. The Dallas-based Hillwood development firm and DeSoto County economic development officials are trying to get a 219-acre tract in Southaven designated as a general purpose Foreign Trade Zone. Such a designation would be attractive to companies manufacturing products on an international scale because when those operations are conducted in a FTZ, materials can be shipped in for manufacturing duty free. Hillwood is developing an industrial park at the Southaven property between Highway 51 and Interstate 55 and already has Emerson Electric Co. in one of its buildings. Emerson, which makes electric and electronic systems and products, currently operates in 290,000 square feet and wants the designation. Other international companies have reportedly inquired about foreign trade zones when investigating sites in North Mississippi. The trend in U.S. manufacturing has been that jobs are leaving the country, so any tool a community can employ to give it a competitive advantage in retaining or luring manufacturing jobs is a big plus. Hillwood and DeSoto County are only trying to be as competitive as possible, and to their credit, attaining this designation is another way to achieve that. And the timing may be perfect for DeSoto County. With a weak U.S. dollar, more foreign countries are looking at the U.S. for investment opportunities because of the favorable exchange rate. Not many areas of the Mid-South are approved for FTZ operations, so achieving this designation would certainly make North Mississippi more competitive with Memphis in this niche arena. It would also make the industrial park Hillwood is developing highly attractive to a larger number of suitors. But Memphis would also see some benefits, if not ancillary benefits, through the creation of new jobs, new logistics business and commerce through Memphis International Airport.