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`...Mississippi did not lose any federal money because we did not have a state Department of Labor

Manufacturing association busy during session, year ‘round

Pending legislative action, regulatory monitoring, an increased membership and proposed plant expansions keep the Mississippi Manufacturers Association leaders clipping along at a busy pace.

“Many folks think that as soon as the legislative session is over, we take off and play golf,” said Jerry McBride, president of the 1,800-member association, with a chuckle. “Nothing could be further from the truth. When the session is over, we immediately switch gears and follow regulatory action, and all the while manufacturers’ interest in federal legislation and regulation continues. We also present approximately 40 seminars per year. There’s so much going on in the manufacturing industry, it keeps us all very busy.”

With the state’s economy in high gear, several plants have recently announced expansions. Franklin Corp., a Houston-based furniture manufacturer, will add 100 jobs when a planned 90,000-square-foot expansion of its facility in Chickasaw County is complete. H.M. Richard’s, an upholstery furniture manufacturer located in the North Lee Industrial Complex in Tupelo, will double in size when its 100,000 square feet of expansion is complete. If FMC Corp.’s bid is approved for the U.S. Air Force’s NGSL Program, up to 80 jobs would be added to the Tupelo plant.

“Even with recently announced expansions, there could be even more manufacturing growth if the state had enough skilled workers,” he said. “At every board of directors meeting, I hear stories about how plant managers could hire 10, 15 or 20 workers, or consider expanding plants, if qualified workers were available.”

In 1994, MMA had fewer member plants, but listed about 260,000 manufacturing jobs statewide. Soon after, the job count plateaued and began a gradual decline. Today, about 240,000 manufacturing workers are employed in the state. The trend, reflected nationwide, is partly due to the advent of more technologically advanced equipment.

“More widgets may be produced, but not as many people are needed per machine,” said McBride. “Advanced technology has resulted in a more efficient operation, but the number of people needed is lower and the skills needed to operate newer machines are higher.”

Nationally, fueled by a healthy economy, midsize manufacturers, defined as those with $25 million to $500 million in annual revenue, expect strong revenue growth this year. Statewide, prospects for revenue growth are good, but projections are not as pronounced, McBride said.

MMA opposed this year’s legislation to establish a state Department of Labor. “The U.S. Department of Labor has told us that Mississippi did not lose any federal money because we did not have a state Department of Labor,” McBride said.

“The bill’s concept of consolidation of workforce training could be helpful,” said John Baas, director of industrial relations. “But this can be accomplished without the creation of an additional layer of bureaucracy and regulation.”

Another bill, House Bill 143, which has been sent to the Senate, would undo the $100 minimum for garnishments and would result in a plethora of paperwork, Baas said.

“Some retailers already misuse garnishment as a credit tool,” he said. “This would create more work for plant administrators who already have heavy loads.”

SB3053 would authorize the creation of storm water management districts within the state.

“The goal of the bill is to keep pollution out of rainwater,” said Mark Leggett, director of government affairs. “We support the senate committee substitute which removes all taxing authority and limits districts regulations to be no more stringent than federal law.”

The House version (HB1511) would allow districts to impose taxes or fees on manufacturers who have already paid to comply with federal storm water regulations.

“House Bill 1511 could be funded by roof and parking lot tax, which would be heavily assessed on facilities like manufacturers and even Northpark Mall,” Baas said. “We support the Senate version.”

SB2230 and HB337 that would allow the Insurance Integrity Enforcement Bureau to continue investigations of workers’ compensation fraud cases have passed respective chambers.

Other legislative items on MMA’s agenda include the monitoring of the Mississippi Agricultural Promotions Program Act (SB2561), a Senate-approved bill that would allow inclusion of manufactured goods at least 51% produced in the state.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com, mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.


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