Alliance: Industrial park paid for, awaits tenants

BROOKHAVEN — For three years, Linbrook Business Park has been the scene of continuous tree-clearing, earth-moving, hole-drilling, road-grading, general destruction and precise construction. It’s also been consuming tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars throughout that time.

Now the big machines are gone, the work is all done and elected leaders wrote the last checks in mid-August. Brookhaven’s and Lincoln County’s biggest investment — and the home of tomorrow’s industries — is officially paid for and shovel-ready.

“You feel a great sense of accomplishment at this point,” said Mike Jinks, chairman of the Linbrook Alliance, a directing board composed of elected and business officials. “It’s a great investment for Brookhaven. I know it’s costly, but it’s an investment that was needed, and one I think will pay out in the years to come.”

With work complete, the city’s and county’s third and newest industrial park can now be marketed as a packaged deal to potential investors.

Sprawling across 400 acres, it contains everything needed to install a new business or industry except the company building. One million gallons of water circulate in a massive tank extending high over a new well tied into the municipal water system, and blacktop roads extend in four directions through the future company lots.

Water and sewer follow those roads, waiting to be hooked to a facility of any size, and a conduit for fiber optic cable is ready to insulate those high-tech wires if needed.

Linbrook is ready for the big trucks to roll in and out, and soon it will look the part, too. The city is holding a $95,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will be used to install lighting, signs and landscaping to “dress it up,” Jinks said.

The park has come a long way in a stunningly short amount of time, said Cliff Brumfield, executive vice president of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce.

“We had a fairly aggressive timeframe for completion. The typical industrial park is 5 to 10 years from inception to buildable site,” he said. “We broke ground just a couple years ago, and now we’re totally ready for a new industry.”

When the Alliance — composed of members appointed by Lincoln County supervisors, Brookhaven aldermen and the chamber — first met in January 2005, Linbrook Business Park was still just an undistinguished growth of pine protecting rural Lincoln County from the westward spread of the city. But the great plan was already in motion, and the Alliance had already drawn up the boundaries, studied the red earth and planned the industrial park.

It was time to buy. Supervisors let a $2.2 million bond, which aldermen matched with a $1.6 million loan and $600,000 in cash. The chamber contributed a further $500,000 to purchase the 400 acres and begin work. The federal Economic Development Administration chipped in another $1.1 million, unusual for a project still on the ground.

With the land secured, the Alliance poured on another $5.4 million to install the necessities, a process that has gone on since late 2007. With federal reimbursements factored in, the total cost of the park stands at approximately $10 million. Supervisors and aldermen have been paying the tab monthly since construction began, with bills depending on the work completed during a 30-day span.

Some months, elected leaders approved payments to the Alliance of tens of thousands. During heavy months, those checks reached into the hundreds of thousands. Payments on the two bonds will total $108,600 and $158,600, respectively, and will be paid out for the next 15 years or so.

Getting Linbrook to pay for itself will require a new industry, something that’s been scarce during the economic times of the past two years. But there are movers out there, Brumfield said.

“We’ve had three looks at the park over the past two years and many, many inquiries,” said Brumfield. “In every case those three projects were put on hold. But we expect to have more as the economy improves.”

Local economic developers started shopping the park around long before its completion. With Linbrook completed and beautified, the deal will be sweetened.

“We don’t have a conceptual idea, we now have the hardware in place for a quick location decision,” Brumfield said. “It gives us a tremendous advantage when timeframe is of great importance. It also helps in the permitting phase — we already have the environmental surveys and geotechnical data on hand, so we can automatically respond to requests for information from industries.”

The target industry for Linbrook is light manufacturing, something that will mesh well with the park’s proximity to commercial and residential areas and nearby Brookhaven Academy. The park’s businesses have to run clean and quiet — Linbrook is not the place for belching smokestacks and lingering smells. Any companies occupying the park’s grounds will also have to offer higher-paying jobs and demonstrate longevity.

“Everything we do, the ultimate goal is the preservation of our local economy,” Brumfield said.

The park’s completion gives local economic developers a state of readiness not enjoyed since the heady recruiting days of the 1980s, said Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop.

“We haven’t been this prepared to market ourselves since the days of recruiting Wal-Mart Distribution Center and Packard,” said Bishop. “I think we’re in an era right now where we’re prepared just like those guys were at that time, and some of the same guys who were recruiting those industries are still doing it today.”

The local team is recruiting hard for Linbrook, which could also be the beneficiary of regional industrial recruiting efforts by the Southwest Mississippi Partnership.

“We’re in an incredibly good situation to see some good things happen,” Bishop said.

“Everybody in Lincoln County has participated in this project, whether it be the construction of it, the bond payments, the initiative of raising the money. And before it’s all said and done, everybody’s going to reap the benefits.”

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