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Williams: Certified sites are a proven advantage

Mississippi Power's Project Ready program exceeding expectations

When Mississippi Power Company unveiled a program that would pre-certify sites as ready for development in early 2008, it expected success. However, the program has hit a pace that has caught even the Gulfport-based utility by surprise as it recently certified its third site under the program dubbed Project Ready.

“Across the country, we’re seeing that certified sites are a proven advantage to lure industry,” said Mississippi Power economic development director Arnie Williams. “We have seen how certified sites have brought major projects to other communities, and how great an impact they have on the regional economy.”

Mississippi Power’s Economic Development Department announced in February 2008 the launch of Project Ready, an unprecedented industrial site certification program created to stimulate economic development in the utility’s service territory through a formal partnership with economic development agencies and communities the company serves.

In October 2008, Project Ready saw its first “graduate” — the Howard Technology Park in Ellisville. This made the Economic Development Authority of Jones County a role model for the rest of the state in being prepared to attract industries and bring more jobs and prosperity to Mississippi.

Last month, the program certified two more sites in as many days. On March 25, a ceremony was held to celebrate the certification of Key Field in Meridian.

“Mississippi Power’s Project Ready certification has just put East Mississippi in a competitive position in aviation,” said Wade Jones, executive director of the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation. EMBDC. “We anticipate significant economic development in Lauderdale County, and now Key Field can play a role in that.”

On March 26, the George County Economic Development Foundation (GCEDF) and George County Board of Supervisors proudly announced that the George County Industrial Park had earned its Project Ready designation.

“Companies are looking for sites that are ready to go, and this Project Ready certification will let businesses know we are ready for them,” said Mike Smith, president of the GCEDF. “George County Industrial Park is a jewel for us to have and be able to market, and the certification proves that to the world.”

The Project Ready certification is attractive because it is so comprehensive. The program looks at every aspect of the site to determine its readiness. This includes:

• Wetlands delineation — locating any wetlands that are on the site

• Archaeological — identifying any areas of historical significance on the site such as a cemetery or Native American burial grounds

• Endangered species — identifying any species on the property that are protected

• Geo-technical — classifying soil make up of the ground that would ultimately affect the site preparation

• Phase 1 environmental — verifying that it is a clean site, pinpointing anything hazardous at the site that would pose a problem to humans as well as identifying any protected plants

Thus, certification means that the local economic development agency has done all the pre-work on their site. They understand ownership issues, engineering issues and any obstacles to development, and they have a plan for addressing them. Plus, they know what it will cost and how long it will take to bring infrastructure to the site.

Mississippi Power has retained two partners to conduct the certification process. They are the Greenville, S.C.-based site selection consulting firm McCallum Sweeney Consulting (MSC) and Waggoner Engineering Inc. of Jackson.

MSC is perhaps best known in Mississippi for its “megasite” work, which paid dividends in landing Nissan in Canton and Toyota in Blue Springs. However, Mississippi Power’s Project Ready program is not focused exclusively on megasites. It offers four size categories: megasite (more than 1,000 acres); large industrial (250 or more acres); general industrial (75 or more acres; and, industrial park (200 or more acres with at least one 50 acre parcel)

According to Mississippi Power, Project Ready’s momentum continues to build. It said several other sites are “in the pipeline,” but could not elaborate at press time. The utility is especially pleased to see this interest in light of the current economic conditions.

Mississippi Power President and CEO Anthony Topazi said, “Our country is experiencing difficult economic times, and Mississippi feels it. How fast we come out of it is by doing exactly what we are doing — we get ready — Project Ready.”

For more information on Project Ready, contact Mississippi Power’s Joy Olive at (228) 865-5847.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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