Yazoo clay, a mudrock deposit under metropolitan Jackson, Miss., wreaks havoc on building foundations. The material’s volume can expand 10 percent with just a 4 percent increase in moisture. But local construction companies and engineers have developed standards for deeper piles and moisture management that keeps the clay stable. That, combined with public funding, has cranes in the air around the so-called Crossroads of the South.

“Downtown Jackson is in the midst of the biggest renaissance in its 200-year history,” crows Charles Alexander, a partner at hometown firm Dale and Associates Architects. But there is one challenge, he laments: a lack of available local financing. “Attempts to interest local banking entities in participating in development opportunities has been met with less-than-favorable results,” Alexander says. “Bankers are taking a wait-and-see attitude.”

But that hasn’t dampened spirits in author Eudora Welty’s hometown. Corinne Fox, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, says that thanks to a Downtown Strategic Plan completed by the city in 2004, “19 private projects totaling $1.5 billion are being planned or are under construction. Public projects represent a total of $400 million.”

Although Jackson’s population is on the decline, locals are bullish on the city’s future. “Jackson’s people and our civic organizations are actively working to increase attractions and services to the surrounding region,” says Steve Davis, vice president of local firm Canizaro Cawthon Davis. For instance, organizations in the Fondren and Belhaven neighborhoods are engaged in community visioning designed to drive development that meets local needs. “Our strengths include a vibrant and diverse group of citizens pulling together for Jackson’s success,” Davis says. “Because we avoided much of the excess of the 2000s, we have also been spared much of the pain.”

Current population: 175,710, but growth is -4.4%. Job growth: down 0.6% since 2008.

Space in the 1.1-million-s.f. office market ranges from $17/s.f. to $25.50/s.f.

Median home sale price, May 2009: $93,000.

• Proximity to Dallas, Atlanta
• State’s only true urban center
• Low cost of living

• Declining population
• Aging infrastructure
• Limited private financing

“The city’s primary strength is people with vision and a can-do attitude,” says Dale and Associates Architects partner Charles Alexander. “New energy and forward-looking organizations are also a winning combination. Jackson is fertile ground for launching new ideas.”