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Megasite strategy paying off for Columbus, Lowndes County

Build an industrial development megasite, get it certified, and they will come. That was the plan for the Columbus Lowndes Development Link and its community, business and political partners. And the Link has seen twin successes at the two megasites in the area with Mississippi Legislature recently approving about $60 million for infrastructure needs to attract a new engine plant planned on 394 acres at the Crossroads megasite near the intersection of Airport Road and U.S. 82.

It is the second large new industrial development at a megasite following on the heels of the $880-million SeverCorr steel mill at the Lowndes County megasite that started its first production line in January.

“The competitive resources of Lowndes County and the Golden Triangle are finally becoming recognized,” said Gray Swoope, executive director for the Mississippi Development Authority. “This project is another example of the necessary collaboration to create economic development growth. Working together, along with the governor, the state and TVA, they have successfully positioned the region to attract significant, sustainable investment.”

Joe Max Higgins Jr., CEO of the Columbus Lowndes Development Link, said the Golden Triangle region is on a roll.

“This project will mean between 500-800 highly skilled, highly paid people in our community,” Higgins said. “This, as well as investments made by Baldor, SeverCorr and Eurocopter, will really have a positive impact on our community wealth.”

Higgins said the Golden Triangle region has had more than 4,000 jobs announced and more than $3 billion invested since 2003. Other major projects include the Eurocopter helicopter facility, expansions of Aurora Flight Services operation manufacturing aerial drones for the military, and a $20-million Baldor Electric expansion that added 100 jobs.

“We have a great team, elected and non-elected leaders, and tremendous resources,” Higgins said. “Plus we work hard at it every day because we know in economic development second place pays the same as last.”

While the name of the company planning the engine plant was not officially released, it was widely reported in the press to coincide with a press release from PACCAR Inc., of Bellevue, Washington, which has announced plans for a new $400-million powertrain manufacturing and assembly facility somewhere in the Southeast.”Strong demand for high-quality DAF, Peterbilt and Kenworth products has resulted in record production and market share for PACCAR worldwide,” said Mark Pigott, chairman and CEO of PACCAR. “The 400,000-square-foot facility strengthens PACCAR’s global manufacturing and assembly capability and positions PACCAR to capitalize on growing opportunities in North America, Europe and Asia,”

The press release from PACCAR said construction of the facility will begin in mid-2007 and is targeted for completion in 2009. The company reported record earnings of $1.1 billion on revenues in the first nine months of 2006, and is the 489th largest public company in the world. The company is number 250 on the Fortune 500 list of largest companies in the country.

“Anytime a state-of-the-art corporation of that magnitude decides to locate here in Mississippi, you have done a good thing,” said Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville. “This is not just good for our area. This is good for the entire state of Mississippi. They are very citizen oriented and very employee oriented. So my hat is off to the Link. My hat also goes off to the Legislature to take a major non selfish position in helping us and not letting that deal slip through our fingers. It wasn’t like there was mild, lukewarm competition. There was very stiff competition and we there just holding on trying to get the deal closed, putting all we had on the table to offer. The location is really what sold them, from what I’m told. The atmosphere, environment and training capabilities here assisted, as well.”

Ellis said it is the season for economic development in the Golden Triangle area.

The opportunity to bloom has come about as a result of having everything in place at the right time. He said landing a world-class manufacturing facility speaks volumes to the rest of corporate American saying, “You should try Mississippi.

“It is looking very good for us right now if we can stay on this road we are on,” Ellis said. “People are migrating to the Southeast looking for a fresh start. There will be an opportunity for a lot of people to take advantage of. The jobs, of course, are a major factor for the people up here. People will be able to receive decent pay, and it is going to encourage other corporations not paying up to scale to step up and start doing a better job.”

Ellis expects the project to have a big impact on real estate sales. He said SeverCorr has already had major positive influence on housing starts in the area.

Allegra Brigham, CEO of 4-County Electric Power Association, said area leaders were quite relieved that a snag hit when attempting to get the incentives approved by the Legislature was overcome.

“We were concerned about it getting through the Legislature,’ Brigham said. “The incentive package did run into a complication, but it got worked out. We are very appreciative of the Legislature approving the incentive package.

“The Golden Triangle area is firmly establishing itself on the map. We provide a good environment for business. We have progressive leadership and a very good workforce. You put those ingredients together with some energy to push things through, and you have the ingredients for success.”

Brigham said having the Crossroads megasite available had a tremendous impact on recruitment of this project. She said a number of significant projects have been considered for the megasite.

“Having a certified megasite certainly attracts the attention of companies that have large land requirements,” Brigham said. “It also gets the attention of site selectors who often help drive the process. There is a saying, ‘Success comes when preparation and opportunity meet.’ And our county was prepared because we had gone through the certification process. An opportunity presented itself and we were equipped to meet the company’s needs. Preparation and opportunity converged for success.”

The 4-County Electric Power Association distributes power from TVA. Brigham said while TVA has very competitive rates, they were up against some very tough competition in the rate arena.

“TVA has certainly stepped up to help our area recruit this industry,” she said.

Brigham said any time an industry of this caliber can be attracted, it is not only beneficial for the local county but to the region and the entire state. The project is expected to attract employees from throughout the region.

The Crossroads megasite is located not far from West Point, which recently suffered the loss of 1,200 jobs at a Sara Lee meat packing facility. Brigham said since it will take a couple years to build the new engine manufacturing plant, that won’t be an instant Band Aid for the meat plant closing. The U.S. Department of Labor has allocated $4.4 million for retraining of the Sara Lee workers.

The area’s reputation for excellent workforce training had an impact on the engine plant site selection decision.

“A key issue in the recruitment of this industry and every industry is the outstanding job East Mississippi Community College does for workforce training,” Brigham said. “That is very important to potential industries. It is also a very important factor to maintenance of existing industry.”

While local economic development and political leaders are extremely pleased that their efforts are paying dividends, they are already planning for the future.

“We have to now look where we are going next,” Brigham said. “We aren’t going to sit on our laurels and be satisfied. While we are working diligently to meet needs of industries we have just recruited and other existing industries, we also have to position ourselves for the future. Oftentimes people get satisfied. I think the leadership in our community will not just sit back and take a deep sigh. We are going to be looking to the future and where we want to go next.”

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


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