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Projects spark economic development around state

Community-built spec buildings paying off for Mississippi

Community-built spec buildings have spurred economic development in many Mississippi cities, generated interest from site selection committees and attracted a wide spectrum of industries to the state.

By July 1, Illinois-based Cook Sales, makers of portable warehouses with dealers in 11 states, will create 25 jobs in Grenada County when its new manufacturing facility opens in a 50,000-square-foot, community-built spec building constructed in Grenada in late 1997. The family-owned company, with locations in Illinois, Georgia and Texas, will pour $1 million into the facility and will begin rolling out products later this month, said co-owner Greg Cook.

“Rick Byars with Entergy made us aware of the community-built spec building after we told him we needed a 50,000-square-foot building with outside staging space,” said Cook. “The spec building for the City of Grenada was one of five sites he took us to. When we looked at the building, we realized it could work with modifications and additions, which we’re currently doing. So far, we’re ahead of schedule.”

The outside staging space was required for the construction and assembly of Cook Sales’ mostly residential and completely portable, all wooden, all pressure-treated storage facilities, ranging in size from 8-by-12 feet to 14-by-30 feet, and priced from $1,200 to $6,000, Cook said.

“This project resulted from an Entergy direct mail piece,” said Rick Byars, senior project manager for Entergy. “Cook Sales responded to one of our ads, and that’s what got them to Mississippi. Entergy and the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development showed them sites in Grenada, Jackson, Copiah and Simpson counties, and Clarksdale. Ultimately, they decided Grenada was the best location for them.”

Will Mayo, director of economic development for Entergy, said approximately 80% of businesses prefer already available buildings in the site selection process.

“Quite often, the availability of a facility can get you a prospect visit,” Mayo said. “If you don’t have one, the prospect eliminates you.”

Even though companies that occupied spec buildings in Tylertown were garment-related businesses and have moved offshore, the city was highly successful with its spec building program, Mayo said.

“Pike County has done well with a spec building and is in the process of building another one,” he said. “The cities of Cleveland, Brookhaven and Clarksdale have built spec buildings that have drawn attention to the area.”

Quality Foods made a site inspection to a spec building in Simpson County simply because there wasn’t an available building nearby for them to look at, said Mayo.

“They didn’t particularly feel that the Simpson County building fit their needs but they liked the location so well, they built there,” he said. “That’s a real advantage that communities get from having available buildings.”

Because of the spec building, Quality Foods invested $20 million, said Tim Coursey, executive director of the Simpson County Development Foundation.

“Quality Foods would not be here if we had not had the spec building to give them a reason to visit with us,” Coursey said. “They liked the area, our people and our incentive package. And even though (the spec) building was purchased immediately upon completion and is still vacant by choice of the owner, the building continues to attract prospects to our county to this day.”

William Tyner, executive director of the Grenada Chamber of Commerce, said the city invested more than $300,000 in funds available through the Urban Development Action Grant (UDAG) Program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The UDAG program was created to encourage private development projects in eligible cities. UDAG funds are available for a wide variety of commercial, industrial and mixed-use projects that help revitalize the city’s economic base and provide new permanent employment opportunities, and may be used for fixed asset financing, with no minimum or maximum project amounts, even though UDAG loans for less than $100,000 are unusual.

“The UDAG program had not been activated in a long time,” Tyner said. “The chamber is gathering information now on recommendations for dimensions on another spec building so we can roll over the UDAG money to other economic development projects.”

UDAG loans generally range from 15% to 25% of the project’s cost and some up-front equity investment is generally required.

“We’re very happy our spec building program was a success,” Tyner said. “It’s good for the community, and we’re proud that Cook Sales is moving into Grenada County. It has been very easy to work with them and we welcome their addition to our business community.”

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

About Lynne W. Jeter

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