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Law firms increasing involvement in economic development

Some Mississippi law firms are becoming more and more involved with economic development, forming practice teams with that specialty. That’s part of a growing trend, especially with the state’s use of Gulf Opportunity Zone Act incentives that need legal guidance.

Holmes S. Adams, a partner in the Jackson office of Adams and Reese, LLP, says his firm has been involved in many aspects of economic development.

Playing a role in redevelopment

“Our involvement stems from our community and civic work in Mississippi and throughout the Gulf Coast region,” he says. “The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina presented business challenges, and my firm decided to have a role in the redevelopment process.”

The firm of Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens & Cannada has an economic development group that has represented numerous manufacturing, processing, distribution, warehousing and other industrial and commercial businesses to navigate governmental incentives and advantages at all levels. This practice group, along with the firm’s public finance group, work to implement development programs through key state and local economic development agencies.

“For example, we work together as an interdisciplinary team assisting businesses in taking advantage of GO Zone incentives to support many types of commercial projects, including manufacturing facilities, hotels, office buildings, retail stores, restaurants and warehouse facilities,” says Butler Snow’s John F. England. “Additionally, the two teams work together to assist businesses in structuring federal New Markets Tax Credits transactions.”

Robert S. Lazarus of the Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis law firm describes two of the firm’s most well-known recent successes in economic development involvement. Those are Nissan North America Inc. and SeverCorr, LLC.

“In the case of Nissan, we were interviewed by a team of in-house professionals and outside consultants, as were several other Jackson law firms,” he says. “We were chosen to represent this client on the basis of the team of lawyers that we assembled to address the myriad aspects of what was expected to be a very complicated negotiation as Nissan was looking at several sites for its new manufacturing plant, and Mississippi was by no means a sure winner in this competition.”

He says it was a likewise process for SeverCorr and that company’s financial consultants who had a great deal of experience putting together large transactions in the steel industry and who had become aware of the Jackson-based firm through attorneys and business professionals from outside Mississippi.

“Our team approach involves putting together a group of attorneys in each of several relevant areas of law that affect an economic development project, including state and local taxation, government relations, environmental law, finance and construction contracting,” Lazarus says. “All told, the firm calls upon approximately 15 lawyers, each with years of experience in specific fields, depending upon the specific need at hand.”

Lazarus, a New York City native, says his decision to join Watkins Ludlam was based in large part on the firm’s national reputation in the area of economic development.

Crucial relationships

Adams and Reese was recently named as one of the “Top Ten Law Firms that Understand Economic Development in the South” by Southern Business & Development magazine. Holmes Adams says the firm’s lawyers have been actively involved in community efforts, and have built strong, professional relationships with key members of the public and private sectors, a cornerstone of the firm’s culture.

“Members of our economic development team work very closely with site selectors, business leaders, government officials and economic counsels,” he says. “These relationships are crucial to the economic development process.”

Incentives and investment

“These economic development incentives are significant, so any business considering an investment in any new, replacement or expanded operations, buildings or equipment should consider how to employ federal, state and/or local incentives to the fullest extent possible,” he says. “Butler Snow’s Economic Development Group includes three attorneys who represent clients in structuring transactions to take advantage of economic development incentives.

“In addition, seven attorneys in the public finance group have significant experience in structuring financing transactions to implement numerous economic development incentives.”

Lazarus says a law firm’s role in economic development usually begins as part of a negotiating team for the purpose of identifying and maximizing the involvement of state and local entities.

“This initial phase is perhaps the most important as it sets the stage for all the agreements that are ultimately required to put together an entire package of economic incentives that ultimately lead the client to choose Mississippi as the site for a project,” he says. “I cannot stress enough that success at this stage is based upon mutual trust and respect between the professionals representing the private company and the state.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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