In February, when Entergy Mississippi provided a $150,000 grant to help close the deal to recruit Textron to Greenville and create 500 jobs, the grant — the first of its kind — signaled that the utility company was moving in a totally new direction in recruiting.
“At Entergy, we are strengthening our commitment to our communities by moving in new directions to bring industries like Textron to our state,” said Carolyn Shanks, president and CEO of Entergy Mississippi. “Through a new grants program, we hope to help bridge the gap that often exists between what the state can offer and what companies need.”
Entergy Mississippi also added an economic development rider designed to lower electric rates for qualifying new or expanding business for the first five years.
“Textron is the first company to take advantage of that rider, but we are very confident that others will follow,” said Shanks.
Last month, Entergy Mississippi formally announced the Business Incentive Program, which allows 33 communities in the utility company’s 45-county service area to qualify for low-interest loans and grants for projects that meet strict criteria and represent a significant return on investment for the community and Entergy.
“We set up the program to be very flexible, to allow us to come in and work with local communities or regional groups to provide funding to help close deals or make investments that make good sense,” said John Turner, director of economic development for Entergy Mississippi. “For example, state funds cannot be used to move equipment. It may make good sense, from an investment standpoint based on a rate of return over a payback period, to provide dollars from our pot of money for that expense, to make sure companies come here rather than another state.”
Even though figures ranging from $30,000 up to $1 million have been discussed as loan and grant amounts, Turner emphasized, “there’s no minimum or maximum.”
The Business Incentive Program includes pre-certification for sites and buildings, similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s two certified industrial sites — one is near Columbus — in its seven-state service area that met all requirements — environmental, geological, transportation and others — necessary for the construction of a major automotive manufacturing plant.
“If we see a high-potential site, for example, and the local community is doing what needs to be done to develop it, we may put in dollars to help develop and certify that site and market it,” said Turner. “We would expect to recruit a business to that site within three years.”
During a presentation at the conference, Phil Hardwick, coordinator of economic and community development for the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, explained to the 350 attendees: “A community is a collection of people with a common interest. That interest may be in the form of common relationships, such as connections to activities and organizations, common interests or a common place, such as a neighborhood or town. Communities are constantly changing due to internal and external influences. Some barriers to positive change in a community are fear of change, power struggle, no desire to change — for example, ‘I like it the way it is’ — lack of communication, turfism and failure to understand change.”
Since 1994, Entergy’s flagship community development program, TeamCity, has helped local communities by providing small grants and assisting with strategic leadership planning. A new supplement, TeamCity II, focuses on a regional approach to economic development.
“With global competition, we realized we needed to step up the program,” said Turner. “Companies want to see cities and counties working together to help them be successful. That’s a big attraction, especially on very large projects. As a matter of fact, several consultants have said that if you don’t have a regional group represented, you can easily get eliminated in the very first phase of the process. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Turner pointed out that “it is designed to help the small communities in Mississippi as well as the large ones.”
“On the other end of the spectrum, it would be very feasible for us to justify making a $1 million investment on a large project like Nissan, a high user with a long-term contract,” he said.
Mississippi Development Authority deputy director Gray Swoope said Entergy’s new program would be “a tremendous boost to our efforts to bring jobs and industry here” and “is one way we are making our state more competitive.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.