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Changes come with auto manufacturing

CANTON — For Brint Callaway, owner of Reliable Rental Sales and Supply Inc, the construction of the $930-million Nissan North America assembly plant in nearby Canton has not been exactly a shot in the arm — so far. According to Callaway, large, national rental companies typically follow companies like Nissan around, having a continuous presence on-site and, thus, grabbing a lion’s share of the equipment rental business.

However, when the employees are actually at work building cars and drawing a salary, that’s when he expects to see the windfall.

“We’re talking about a huge weekly payroll,” Callaway said. “That’s when we expect to see a lot of business as people make home improvements or move into new residences. When the money starts trickling down into the local economy, that’s when local businesses will see increased sales.”

From the day it was announced that Nissan would build in Madison County, officials have used every superlative imaginable to describe the expected positive impact on Mississippi and particularly on Canton and environs. Now with Nissan automobiles slated to roll off the assembly line in about a year, are those expectations beginning to be realized? It would seem the answer is “yes.” And, like Callaway, all are anxiously anticipating the arrival of the workers.

A good gauge of just how much positive interest has been generated in the Canton area by the coming of Nissan may be found at the Mississippi Employment Security Commission (MESC), which is screening Nissan applicants. Expected to employ approximately 4,500 workers when at full capacity, the MESC had, as of July 25, received approximately 47,000 applications. Plans are for applications to be taken through the end of the year, but the MESC says that deadline may be extended.

The MESC said applications are predominately from Central Mississippi residents, meaning a lot of commuters. Thus, immediate activity in residential real estate has not been seen yet. However, as employees begin drawing the higher salaries Nissan is offering, increased activity is expected.

“We have sold properties to Nissan people, as well as to many of the suppliers,” said Nell Wyatt, owner of Coldwell Banker Nell Wyatt Inc. Realtors. “I can’t say we’ve had a 10% increase or some definitive figure like that due to Nissan-related home sales. But there has been an increase in inquiries.

“Obviously, the construction workers are here temporarily, and they are going to rent. So, we haven’t seen much of an impact there. But we do expect, as people who were once making nearer minimum wage begin to earn better salaries from Nissan, that activity will increase as people look to move from renting to homeownership, or look to increase their square footage. It’s definitely a seller’s market now and will be for the foreseeable future.”

Connie Shows, Realtor with Shows Realty Inc., echoed Wyatt’s words.

“There has been a definite upswing in inquiries,” she said. “I don’t know how much of that is Nissan-related, but there has been more activity. Of course, Madison County has been a hot spot for residential sales long before the Nissan announcement.”

When the housing market does heat up, it will get a boost from BankPlus. Last month, it was announced that Belzoni-based BankPlus had won the contract to provide on-site banking services to Nissan employees. Included in that deal are special mortgage packages offered only to Nissan employees to encourage home ownership in Canton and Central Mississippi in general. According to William Ray, CEO of BankPlus, due to confidentiality requirements outlined in the agreement, he could not discuss any details of the mortgage packages. But in a written statement he said one reason for his bank’s selection was the similarity between BankPlus and Nissan in recruiting and retaining quality employees and in encouraging community involvement.

“We are excited and honored to join with Nissan in this new venture,” Ray said.

While the residential activity may still need time to heat up, commercial prospects are already showing a keen interest in Canton.

The Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) said it has also received an increasing number of inquiries from retailers and service-oriented business looking to get their products and services in front of Nissan employees. And while Nissan’s arrival has not changed the focus or strategy of MCEDA, executive director Jerry Acy said it has quickened the pace of the organization’s efforts.

“We’ve received a lot of inquiries, especially for the Gluckstadt area (just south of Canton where a large complex of Nissan suppliers will be in operation) – banks, quick-stops, service-related business – and a lot of interest from restaurants and hotels,” Acy said. “And it has accelerated our growth plans for the Central Mississippi Industrial Center.”

So, what does Nissan mean to the future growth of the area? Acy is taking a wait-and-see approach as well, but expects to have some answers within the next couple of months.

“We are about half way finished with an assessment of our future needs that will give us a vision of the county over the next 10 years or so. It is a joint project between MCEDA and the Madison County Foundation,” he said. “It will address issues such as infrastructure, transportation, education and more. We hope to have it completed in a couple of months.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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