By Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, PRCC
The Picayune Item
In a recent conversation, the question was asked, "how has legalized alcohol impacted lower Pearl River County and Picayune?" This was a very controversial issue in late 2010 when the vote for the legal sale of alcoholic beverages passed in the city limits of Picayune. The first permits for the sale of alcoholic beverages were not actually issued until May 2011. Sales tax data concerning the tax collections for alcohol sales are minimal at this point.
However, the question sparked my curiosity about this information, especially as to how it relates to the local economy. In trying to find something to benchmark against, I searched for Mississippi counties that had a population count and and some similarities to Pearl River County. Lamar County has some similar characteristics.
Lamar County only allows the sale of alcohol within the Hattiesburg city limits (Hattiesburg lies in both Forrest and Lamar Counties); Pearl River County only allows the sale of alcohol in the Picayune City limits. According to the United States Census, the population of each county is similar with Lamar County at 57,422 residents while Pearl River County has 55,714 residents.
The sale tax information provides us a little insight into how much is expended on alcoholic beverages. The Mississippi Department of Revenue provides tax data on the sale of alcohol for each county in Mississippi. Lamar County had total sales, including all taxes, of $5,322,689 for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011. While Pearl River County had just begun to offer the sale of alcoholic beverages, the total sales and collections for the same fiscal year was $15,897. The data for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2012 will most certainly reveal quite an increase for Pearl River County, as several more permits were issued.
While I am not an economist, it is interesting to try and predict what the sales and tax data for Pearl River County will ultimately show. The median income for Lamar County residents is higher than the median income for Pearl River County residents. The United States Census data for the two counties indicates that the average median income from 2007-2011 for Lamar County was $50,075 and Pearl River County $42,971; thus Lamar County residents probably have more to spend. This will probably be a good indicator that Lamar County's total sales and collections will out pace Pearl River County's. Furthermore, the part of Lamar County that allows the sale of alcoholic beverages could probably be considered a local "destination" in terms of its locale to the University of Southern Mississippi and the medical community located nearby. Many people come to the area for the services offered and ultimately spend on food and beverage while there.
Now, back to the original question asked of me while in a casual conversation, "How has legalized alcohol impacted lower Pearl River County and Picayune?" The research that I did to help try and answer this inquiry might open up more questions than answers. I do not think that Picayune/Pearl River County will come very close to matching Hattiesburg/Lamar's large sales volume in alcoholic beverages. However, it is a certainty that the number will make a huge jump when fiscal year 2012 data are revealed.
Without getting into the morality questions that are invoked when debating this issue, the economic importance is significant. For every dollar that is captured within the Pearl River County data represents a dollar that would have been spent somewhere else. Whether the money is spent by a Pearl River County resident or a resident of another locale, the dollars spent in this county supports local jobs.