Ready to roll

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Published: September 20,2004

Columbus — At least three automotive manufacturers are considering building an assembly plant on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) first certified megasite in Mississippi, located in the Golden Triangle. But it may be a year before an announcement is forthcoming.

Last month, TVA and area leaders announced the Lowndes County-Golden Triangle megasite as one of only two industrial sites in the utility giant’s seven-state service area that met all requirements — environmental, geological, transportation and others — necessary for the construction of a major automotive manufacturing plant.

“Having a certified megasite ready for development gives Columbus and the Tennessee Valley an advantage in the highly competitive site selection process for new automotive manufacturing facilities,” said TVA chairman Glenn McCullough, former mayor of Tupelo. “Economic development is part of TVA’s core mission, and we are committed to delivering leadership for a Valley economy that provides career opportunities for the people we serve.”

After TVA leaders learned that several major manufacturers were considering locating five additional automotive assembly plants in the Southeast within the next two years, they decided to increase their chances of housing those sites in their service area by creating a megasite certification program.

The company issued RFPs (requests for proposals) to more than 200 site selection consultants. Of the 18 respondents, TVA officials met with four, and contracted with Greenville, S.C.-based McCallum Sweeney Consulting, the firm that recommended the Nissan site in Madison County.

“We sat down together to facilitate this certification program — the first detailed one of its kind in the U.S.,” said John Bradley, economic development senior vice president for TVA.

The criteria for a megasite included, among other things, at least 700 to 1,000 acres of contiguous, developable property; transportation access including rail service and highway connectivity to an interstate; labor capacity; and the status of environmental impact studies, said Bradley.

“The checklist also addressed such detailed concerns as ‘what would you do if a cemetery was on that property?’” he said. “It was a stringent process.”

Of the 25 proposed locations, Hopkinsville, Ky., is the only other TVA-certified megasite.

“The demand for certified industrial sites is one of the fastest-growing trends in the site location business because companies want sites that are ready to go and relatively risk free,” said Ed McCallum, senior principal of McCallum Sweeney Consulting. “Companies, especially in the automotive industry, are under tremendous market pressures to make siting decisions and startup facilities fairly quickly. With the megasites certification program, TVA has made it possible for sites with the necessary attributes in place and the due diligence completed to receive advanced certification.”

Three of the 23 remaining sites are certified-contingent, meaning they must address various issues with McCallum Sweeney, such as optioning additional dirt or working more on the environmental side, said Bradley. (The Pontotoc-Union-Lee County Alliance site west of Sherman is one.)

“We’re going to allow those communities six more months to complete the process and deliver a product,” he said.

All of the communities reviewed for certification benefited from the process, Bradley pointed out.

“These communities had an opportunity to get in front of one of the top site selection firms in the nation and discuss alternate uses for their economic development plan,” he said. “Maybe they learned that their site didn’t work for an automotive assembly plant, but maybe it was a great site for an automotive supplier, a trucking manufacturing operation, distribution centers or a medical industry.”

The 1,500-acre megasite in Columbus, owned and/or optioned by the Lowndes County Industrial Development Authority, — ”a top selling point,” said Bradley — borders the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, Artesia Road/Kansas City Southern Mainline rail and Industrial Park Road. Easily accessible from Columbus, Starkville and West Point, the site is equidistance from Interstates 20 and 55. The newly opened Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) is located in nearby Starkville.

Charleigh Ford, vice president of economic development for the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, said most of the infrastructure is already in place at the megasite.

“We’d have to add some additional water and sewer lines, and the plan calls for adding a couple more wells and another water tank in addition to the two 500,000-gallon tanks in the park, but that won’t be any problem,” he said. “It’s all contingent on who’s out there. If, for instance, it’s something like Nissan, we’d beef up our water supply. We’ve just finished renovating our wastewater treatment facility for the industrial park, and we’d probably have to enlarge it, but it’s designed in such a way that it will be easy to adapt.”

Having Mississippi State University nine miles west, Mississippi University for Women nine miles east and the East Mississippi Community College Golden Triangle campus on the perimeter of the industrial park bodes well for an attractive labor pool, said Ford, who added that the new Center for Manufacturing Technology Excellence, a training facility for manufacturers operated by manufacturers, has been a catalyst for industrial recruitment and retention.

“It’s a 24/7 center,” he said. “If someone wants to come out at two o’clock in the morning and train, we’ll open up the center and put instructors out there.”

Having TVA promote the megasite “makes it all the more attractive,” said Ford.

“We’re going to make sure that everyone who has a role to play is fully aware of everything about this megasite,” he said. “Our philosophy has been that the certification does not guarantee us an automotive assembly plant or a like employer, but it certainly takes us to the next level.
We’re popping up on a lot of radar screens.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.

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