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Momentum Mississippi and workforce training are tools for creating new manufacturing jobs

Things are looking up for manufacturing in Mississippi. The number of facilities opening and expanding is up and new jobs are being created. Add the passage of Momentum Mississippi to the mix and the picture gets even better.

Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) president Jay Moon says Momentum Mississippi is extremely significant economically, calling it a historic piece of legislation.

“It makes us competitive and expands our ability to attract emerging types of companies such as research & development, high-tech, back office and distribution. That opens up opportunities to bring in operations that can fit all communities,” he said. “That’s a strong signal that the Legislature and governor support manufacturing and the economy. It’s no question that I’m pleased.”

Moon is especially pleased that the legislation addresses the state’s existing manufacturing base by adding another $12 million to aid those companies faced with outsourcing to other countries. Equally important are three new programs for all existing manufacturing companies. These include tax credits, low-interest loans and a grant program for upgrading technology.

Toward a complete package

Additionally, in the regular legislative session assistance for workforce training was identified that Moon says makes a complete package. As allowed by the federal government, some unemployment taxes paid by employers can be diverted for workforce training. This will be the first year any of those funds have been used for training.

“That training along with the incentives of Momentum Mississippi will function as bookends for making investments and hiring in the state,” he said. “As the name says, it puts ‘momentum’ into the mix.”

He says the overall Momentum package does many things on many fronts and that’s the name of the game. Industries are much more high tech and create a smaller number of jobs than in times past. “These days we talk about economic development in a broader sense than we used to with things such as tourism being considered an industry,” he said. “Tourism is one that some smaller towns can consider.”

A positive trend?

For the past few years, the number of expanded plants and the jobs they create have outnumbered plant closings and jobs lost. Moon says he expects 2005 to follow that trend. “We’re on track to do that again. If the numbers stay consistent, we will continue that trend,” he said. “It’s very positive. The most exciting are the expansions.”

He lists a few of the “neat expansions” thusly:

• Howard Industries in Simpson County; electric ballasts for fluorescent lighting — 85 jobs

• Pharma Pac in Kemper County; pharmaceutical and cosmetics preparations — 134 jobs

• Town House in Monroe County; home furnishings — 145 jobs

• Yorozu in Warren County; automotive parts — 196 jobs

• Plumrose in Prentiss County; canned meats — 80 jobs.

‘Good mix of manufacturing’

“It’s still true that we have a good mix of manufacturing in Mississippi,” he said, “everything, including processed foods, lumber, furniture, automotive parts, paper, electronics, metal fabrication, ranges, chemical polymers and plastics, helicopters and warships.”

Among the new facilities opening in the state this year are the following:

• Kingsford Company in Alcorn County; $20 million charcoal plant — about 15 jobs

• Skyline Steel in Tishomingo County; $17 million plant — 30 jobs

• Davis International in Lee County; furniture — 125 jobs

• AGC Automotive in Madison County; automotive glass and mirrors — 81 jobs.

“It’s interesting that we’re getting two steel plants. SteelCorr in Lowndes County has financing and is moving forward too,” the MMA president said. “We’re also seeing more of the auto industry move to the Southeast and getting opportunities for those types of industries as a direct spin-off from the Nissan plant.”

Getting to bottom of what happened

Along with keeping up with openings, expansions and closures, the MMA tracks closures to try and find out why the closures occurred. Moon says it often is a consolidation by the parent company without the parent company itself closing.

“Another strong part of the Momentum program addresses that. We hope to have these companies consolidate here,” he said. “We have to be able to work with those companies like they’re new because other states are recruiting them and we didn’t have much for existing businesses before Momentum Mississippi.”

He also feels the state led the nation in comprehensive civil justice reform that continues to have a residual effect on attracting new business. Tort reform is having a positive effect and is not an issue that comes up with new businesses now.

“We’ve turned a corner and are seeing improvements in the overall economy,” he said. “No doubt there will continue to be challenges to manufacturing such as energy costs, healthcare prices and unregulated foreign prices, but we are seeing Congress take these things seriously and address them. These are important things that will create a level playing field and open opportunities.”

He says the state’s congressional delegation is working closely with manufacturers on these issues. The 2,100-member MMA will always keep an eye on the horizon in search of anything that will help businesses.

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


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