Santa visits Mississippi courtesy of Nissan project

by Lynne W. Jeter

Published: December 17,2001

CANTON — In less than six months, Nissan North America has announced $250 million in investments by production suppliers to its $930-million automotive assembly plant being built in Madison County. The investments represent 2,000 jobs.

“We expect additional announcements soon,” said Sherry Vance, spokesperson for the Mississippi Development Authority. “We’ve had announcements at various locations around the state and we hope that continues so we can spread the wealth throughout Mississippi and provide high-wage jobs for our citizens during this critical time.”

The first wave of production suppliers, representing $140 million and 1,000 jobs, was announced July 17. Nissan said three new production plants would be built adjacent to the Nissan plant to supply it with vehicle modules and components, four new production plants would be built within two miles of the Nissan plant, and another plant would be built in Vicksburg.

The second wave of production suppliers, representing $110 million and 1,000 jobs, was announced Nov. 15. Four of the six companies will partner with existing Mississippi firms, and five supply contracts were given to minority-owned businesses.

“These investments show that Mississippi is a great place to do business, and Mississippi-owned suppliers can compete with anyone, anywhere,” said Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

Unipres U.S.A. Inc., supplier of body panels, will build a plant in Forest. Yorozu America Inc., supplier of suspension components, plans to build a plant in Vicksburg.

“We really don’t have an approximation yet of how many suppliers will be involved with production because we’re still changing and confirming the design of the vehicles to be produced here,” said a Nissan spokesperson. “We’ll stay non-committal until closer to the launch date.”

Griffin Norquist, president of the Bank of Yazoo City, said the supplier announcements gave Mississippi “a shot in the arm.”

“A shakeout of the manufacturing industry was already underway when the economy started to hit the skids, but it really hit Mississippi hard with the loss of 10,000 manufacturing jobs this year,” he said. “Those were mostly lower paying, lower skilled jobs. Nissan’s arrival brings a new level of manufacturing employment to the state that requires better skills, and at the same time, better wage scales. That’s a benefit to us all.”

So far, the combined investments of Nissan and production suppliers represent $1.18 billion and a combined 5,300 jobs. Almost 40,000 people have applied for jobs at the Nissan plant, Vance said.

“Nissan is going through all applications, hoping to hire primarily Mississippians,” Vance said. “It’s a very organized process. They’ll bring employees on board and train them early so they can make sure everybody is ready to go and that there are no quirks in the system so they can get these vehicles out the door. They’ll start with one line and one model, and add a model every three months, continuing to build up the workforce. Full employment should be reached by 2004.”

Of the $295 million the state agreed to pay for infrastructure, training and development of the Nissan project, approximately $88 million has been spent, Vance said.

“We’re moving forward with a great deal of work,” she said. “Our projections now show that as of Dec. 2002, we will have probably expended about $265 million.”

The court battle for land needed for the Nissan project hasn’t hampered progress, Vance said.

“We’re obviously very anxious for the Supreme Court to make a ruling,” she said. “From a supplier and construction standpoint, we’ve had to closely review our critical path plans and do all the additional work we possibly could. We’d hoped to have a decision many months ago, but we’ve been patient and have restructured our critical path plans so we didn’t miss those deadlines.”

In September, the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a stay of further proceedings in the state’s attempt to take land belonging to the Archie family through eminent domain and transfer the property to Nissan to build the manufacturing facility.

“We’re hopeful the Supreme Court will make a decision very soon so that we can move forward with our plans — one way or another,” Vance said. “May 2003 is our final deadline. Every day lost is a day that we need because we’ve been on the fast track since day one.”

A spokesman for Yates-Wallbridge, which has more than 650 workers onsite, said the main plant building is “about 50% complete. So far, we haven’t run into any problems or surprises beyond what would normally be expected with a project of this size and complexity.”

David Richardson, president of the Madison County Board of Supervisors, said the extra workload related to the Nissan project is “causing us 12-hour days, but it’s not straining us financially at this point.”

Jerry Acy, executive director and CEO of the Madison County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA), the economic arm for the Madison County Board of Supervisors, said the Nissan project has given an unexpected windfall to nearby landowners selling dirt for the Nissan site and related roadwork.

“The hospitality industry has also gotten a boost,” Acy added. “There’s obviously a lot more traffic for hotels and restaurants in Canton.”

Michelle Jordon, general manager of Comfort Inn in Canton, said some rooms are saved for travelers, but workers for various contractors occupy most rooms.

“Different groups are booked for months at a time, and when one group moves out, another comes in,” she said. “It’s been great.”

Margaret Stewart, co-owner of Two Rivers Restaurant in Canton, said business has increased considerably in the last several months.

“We’ve seen more construction managers, engineers and workers from the site,” Stewart said.

Jo Ann Gordon, executive director of the Canton Convention & Visitors Bureau & Film Office, said the Nissan project “raises the level of excitement and positive feelings.”

“We don’t just look at the benefits in terms of dollars, but also in image,” she said. “We can go across state lines now and say we’re from Canton and people know what’s going on here. That’s an economic impact.”

Real estate prices haven’t budged much — yet, said Judy Batson, broker/owner of Judy Batson RE/MAX of Ridgeland. “Homes in Madison and Ridgeland have always been in demand, but there is maybe a little bit of a bump from Nissan,” she said. “It’s helped the demand a little, because people know Nissan’s coming and it’s kept prices firm. Some prices on homes with 1,800 square feet or less have gone up a bit.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or (601) 853-3967.


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