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Real work just getting started for Pontotoc-Union-Lee Alliance

Much like a political candidate barnstorming around asking for votes, an economic development group spends a lot of time putting together a package designed to entice a major industry to a particular site. There are public meetings to attend, bonds to pass and executives to convince.

When a candidate wins office, it becomes time to make good on all those campaign claims. Likewise, when a project is locked up, it becomes time to make good on all those financial and infrastructure assurances, too.

That is the spot the Pontotoc-Union-Lee Alliance (PUL) finds itself currently in after the partnership between Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties landed a big economic fish in Toyota, which is building a manufacturing plant in Blue Springs.

The announcement in February 2007 was met with fanfare and applause. Toyota was going to be the project that reshaped Northeast Mississippi’s economic future after the area’s famed furniture manufacturing industry had lost a lot of jobs overseas. Besides the Wellspring mega site where Toyota will eventually reside, the major selling point of the area was the fact that 30% of Northeast Mississippi’s workforce had manufacturing jobs.

Mission accomplished

The PUL Alliance, formed in 2001 and approved by the Mississippi Legislature in 2003, had done exactly what it set out to do: Bring an automotive manufacturer to the region.

Then it was time for the real work to begin.

Tens of millions of yards of dirt had to be rearranged to suit the specifications the plant would require. Frontage and access roads had to be built and railroad tracks had to be laid. There was no disbanding the multi-governmental entity just because its primary purpose had been met.

“The PUL will stay together forever,” said Stephen Surles, executive director of the Union County Development Association, noting that the tax revenue generated by the Toyota plant will be split among Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties.

Hands are full

together-forever theme is a requirement, since the Alliance is charged with letting the contracts that will meet the massive infrastructure needs of the plant. Dirt began turning at the site shortly after the official announcement, and literally has not stopped since.

Randy Kelly, director of the Three Rivers Planning and Development District, also a part of PUL, said property acquisition for the series of railroads and overall infrastructure construction will probably last another year.

“The PUL has still got its hands full,” Kelly said. “There is a tremendous amount of work left to be done.”

Recent news that the plant’s opening will be delayed until 2010 has not done much to dampen the initial enthusiasm, Kelly said.

The only complaint he has heard is the traffic congestion caused around the site because of all the workers and equipment. But that comes with the territory, Kelly said.

Another part of the second phase of bringing Toyota to Northeast Mississippi is the procurement of suppliers. The spinoffs of a large plant like Toyota can sometimes have as big an impact as the original project.

“The recruiting side, there is a little bit of competition (among the three counties) but it’s a brother-sister kind of thing,” Surles said. “We’re all eventually going to benefit.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .


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