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Golden Triangle reaches for gold one more time

If medals were being handed out for the largest new economic development projects in the state, the Golden Triangle would be at the top of the industrial development podium.

On May 11, Gov. Haley Barbour and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) joined local business and political leaders and representatives of PACCAR Inc. of Bellevue, Wash., for the official announcement of a $400-million plant to build engines for the company that manufacturers Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks. The plant expected to go online by 2010, would initially employ 200 with an annual payroll of $18 million. Expectations are that the workforce could eventually grow to 500.

“I am pleased with the decision of this major international company to locate here, which is further testament to the tremendously skilled workforce and ‘can-do’ attitude at every level in this region,” Barbour said.

At the ceremony Barbour formally signed state legislation authorizing $23.9 million for on-site infrastructure improvements such as roads, site preparation, fire service, water supplies and wastewater treatment. Another $24.5 million has been earmarked for off-site infrastructure and training, including road improvements and a training center. The legislation also allows Lowndes County to issue $15 million in bonds and to use eminent domain to obtain property for the plant.

It is the second large new industrial development at a Golden Triangle megasite, following in the footsteps of the $880-million SeverCorr steel mill at the Lowndes County megasite.

“The community has been blown away with the news,” said Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link. “Two locations of major industries on two megasites in four years is awesome. Each company will have suppliers that are looking for sites, and we are making proposals on at least three Toyota suppliers which range from 100,000 square feet to 300,000 square feet. Things look quite bright.”

Higgins said they are currently working with the company to help identify the vendors and contractors who will build and service the plant. It is estimated five to nine major suppliers will be needed as local vendors to support the facility.

‘Major player’

Cochran said the high-tech jobs, community investment and environmental consciousness that PACCAR will bring to this part of the state will stand as valuable evidence of economic success.

“This announcement further demonstrates that Mississippi is poised to continue to be a major player in the automotive industry,” he said.

Cochran credited the research and workforce training being provided by Mississippi State University (MSU) and the surrounding communities with being major factors continuing to lure top-notch manufacturers to this area.

Dr. Kirk H. Schulz, MSU vice president for research and economic development, said the company is expected to locate a technology center at the MSU Thad Cochran Research Center. MSU also anticipates that its Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS), which was established when Nissan located in Canton, will do joint research projects with PACCAR.

“This is another industrial company locating in this region that is going to make use of our expertise in engineering and science,” Schulz said. “One of the areas that Mississippi State needs to expand in our research is that with corporations and industry. Most of the time industry wants to work with a research institution close by where the industry is located.”

Schulz said the development provides more opportunities for MSU faculty and staff. He anticipates PACCAR will be interested in hiring MSU’s mechanical engineering students.

“From our perspective, the more industry that locates in the Northeast area of the state including Tupelo and the Golden Triangle, the more opportunities there are for our graduates to stay in Mississippi and not have to leave and go out of the state.”

MSU is the largest research university and the largest engineering school in Mississippi. In 2006, MSU received approximately $160 million worth of research grants.

The first formal meeting between PACCAR and MSU was planned the week following the formal announcement of the plant. Schulz said more details will be known then.

“People are very excited in the area and community with Toyota coming to the site in Tupelo, with PACCAR coming in, with American Eurocopter expanding its plant and the SeverCorr steel mill coming in,” Schulz said. “We are generating quite a bit of buzz in the community, state and region that something good is happening in Northeast Mississippi.”

‘Synergy in manufacturing’

“We are definitely seeing a real surge in the Golden Triangle area,” said Jay Moon, president and CEO of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association. “‘Project Jupiter (the code name for the project before it was officially announced) is one more example of high-skilled types of manufacturing jobs being attracted to the state. There is a real synergy going on in manufacturing field. With the addition of Toyota, SeverCorr and Eurocopter, you have a major expansion of the job base in the area. I think that is very, very positive. Those higher skill jobs pay better wages, which will raise the per capita income in the state, as well.”

Moon said leaders in the Golden Triangle area are taking the assets they have including the airport, a great workforce and MSU to make great things happen. He added that another advantage of the new development is that it enhances the reputation of the state, which will help attract other businesses in the future.

The outstanding site and strong labor force in the region were the two most important factors in the location decision, said Jeff Forsythe, senior consultant at McCallum Sweeney Consulting and project manager for the PACCAR project.

“It was a highly competitive project, and in the end the Mississippi team prevailed over locations in 12 states,” Forsythe said.

‘Superb proximity’

Mark Pigott, chairman and chief executive officer of PACCAR, said the company is pleased to locate its engine facility in one of the most dynamic and progressive areas in the Southeast.

“The Columbus site provides superb proximity to our dealers, customers and strategic supplier partners,” said Pigott, whose company earned a record net income of $1.5 billion in 2006. “PACCAR’s outstanding financial performance and intense focus on quality, technology and productivity have enabled the company to consistently invest in its products, services and processes during all phases of the business cycle.”

According to a company news release, construction on the 400,000-square-foot facility will begin in mid-2007, and is due to be completed in 2009. The new facility that will manufacture 12.9-liter and 9.2-liter diesel engines for Kenworth, Peterbilt and DAF vehicles will complement PACCAR’s state-of-the-art engine facility in the Netherlands. Jim Cardillo, executive vice president of PACCAR, said the facility will be PACCAR’s most technologically-advanced and environmentally-friendly facility.

“The facility will initially hire approximately 200 employees, and it is anticipated that there will be 500 employees as production increases over time,” Cardillo said. “Additional employment opportunities, which will generate significant economic benefits to the region, will be created during the construction phase and as a result of suppliers expanding their capacity in the area.”

Another company executive, Richard Bangert, vice president, said the company appreciates the outstanding support from the State of Mississippi and Lowndes County in partnering with PACCAR to bring this significant economic investment to the area.

“The construction of the engine facility marks a strategic milestone, and we are pleased to be working closely with the state and local agencies on the planning of the infrastructure for the business,” Bangert said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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