Nissan-Canton bill passes but blocked from governor’s desk

CANTON — The Mississippi House Saturday passed a bill to help finance buildings for suppliers that might locate at Nissan Motor Co.’s plant near Canton.

The bill was blocked from going to Gov. Phil Bryant immediately because some House members are seeking a second round of debate.

Senate Bill 2920 would allow the Madison County Economic Development Authority to issue industrial development bonds, which would be repaid by Nissan. The local authority would own buildings that would be home to suppliers that are brought in to support an expansion of Nissan’s assembly plant on Interstate 55.

The state would not be responsible for paying the bonds, and the state’s credit rating would not be affected, said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus. He said 700 to 1,000 new jobs could be created.

The bill could come back up for debate in the next several days. At issue is whether state law should be changed to lift a prohibition on Canton annexing the plant, which sits on 1,400 acres just south of the city.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said state economic development leaders put the annexation ban into an incentive package to lure Nissan to the state in 2000, even though the Japanese auto maker didn’t request the ban. Blackmon said he doesn’t understand why Canton was singled out for such a prohibition.

“Canton deserves the same right as every town you all come from,” Blackmon told his colleagues Saturday.

Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison, urged House members to support the bill. She said Nissan could have put jobs in Japan or Mexico or at its plant in Smyrna, Tenn., rather than in Mississippi.

“Don’t vote against economic development of this sort,” Martinson said.

The House voted 72-45 to pass Senate Bill 2920. Senators passed it 51-0 on Wednesday.

Nissan and its contractors employ about 5,200 people at its Canton complex, which opened in 2003. Nissan plans to add another 400 employees as part of an expansion to make the Murano.

Mississippi has given $378 million of incentives to Nissan since 2000.

Nissan confirmed Tuesday it was recruiting suppliers, but said it had no specific announcement.

“The ability of Madison County to provide bond funding can be a critical tool as Nissan and the automotive industry looks to continue to grow in the county,” wrote Nissan spokesman Justin Saia in an email. “To that end, we are constantly working with the state to identify ways to attract automotive suppliers to the state.”

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