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South Mississippi sees mix of direct, indirect effects from Nissan

Although there has been relatively little economic impact felt in the southern part of the state from the new Nissan plant, economic development leaders are optimistic that the picture will improve.

“The location of Nissan has elevated Mississippi in the minds of business prospects, which is always a benefit to those of us working in economic development,” said Brynn Joachim, commercial development manager for the Harrison County Development Commission. “We look forward to a future of additional business activity with Nissan, especially with the state port and suppliers here like Oreck Manufacturing that can continue to grow.”

Joachim pointed out that Oreck’s Long Beach plant, manufacturers of vacuum cleaners, is supplying some molded plastic parts for the automaker. Also, the Ershigs Company, located in Biloxi, had a contract to do the initial water lines for the Canton plant. Ershigs, a manufacturer of fiberglass piping, has been in east Biloxi since the early 1980s and has other facilities in Washington State and North Carolina. According to Joachim, the Nissan work gave Ershigs a boost, which has led to other work.

“That win — getting the Nissan plant — put Mississippi on the stage as a state that can compete so that companies will give us a second look,” she added. “It shows the spectrum of small and large companies that have benefited.”

She pointed out that the geography of Harrison County dilutes somewhat the impact of Nissan to this part of the state. “If you draw a radius around us, half of it is water,” she said.

Michael Grubbs, sales manager at Pat Peck Nissan in Gulfport for the past 10 years, said the dealership has felt a big impact on what they do from the plant several hundred miles to the north.

“We get cars from there that are of good quality and will last a long time,” he said. “People are trading in to get more gas efficient cars. They can make the payment on their gas savings.”

The Altima is the best seller, and the new Titan truck built in Canton is the second best seller, he said.

The Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport imported some heavy machinery and supplies that went into the building of the Nissan plant, according to executive director Don Allee. He understands Nissan’s policy to be that domestic markets are satisfied before any exporting of automobiles is done. At that time, the state port will be brought into the loop.

“Down the road it will benefit us,” he said. “We haven’t felt a dramatic increase here, but we are optimistic we will in the future.” Allee stresses the importance of being part of the international community. A lot of foreign commerce passes through the state port, he said.

Hal Walters, executive director of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, did not know of any companies in Hancock County doing business with Nissan.

“I know that G.E. Plastics, who make resins, was exposed to Nissan, but I don’t know if they did anything for them,” he said. “However, having a large facility like that locate in the state opens up possibilities.” George County Economic Development Foundation executive director Sue Wright said, “I’m not aware of any businesses in George County doing any work for Nissan. There were several who bid but didn’t get work and they may have opportunities in the future.”

She says her county is waiting for Hattiesburg, Laurel or Meridian to land something of Nissan’s magnitude to put this part of the state on the map.

“Meanwhile, we’re trying to stay abreast of the market, keep up with trends, and stay aware of what’s going on in economic development,” she added.

The new president of the Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership, Dr. Phillip Halstead, is excited about the possibilities being created by the I-59 Technology Corridor that stretches from Meridian to Stennis Space Center and links all cities in between.

“We want to make it attractive for suppliers to Nissan and other automobile manufacturers,” he said. “Mississippi is the next big thing for automakers and Nissan is the first.”

Halstead replaces Gray Swoope, who took a position with the Mississippi Development Authority, and came to Hattiesburg from Pittsburg State University in Kansas where he served as executive director of the Business and Technology Institute and director of the Kansas Polymer Research Center.

He does not know of any companies in the Hattiesburg area doing business with Nissan but feels the formation of a unified effort through the technology corridor is the wave of the future. The organization will create an image and identity of this sub region as a current place for manufacturing, he said. Additionally, it will organize the network to be more highly connected and stimulate coordination of efforts.

Attempts to get comments from Oreck Manufacturing, Ershigs and G.E. Plastics were not successful.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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