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Archive for August, 2009

Lots of disagreement over MUW name change

August 31st, 2009 No comments

I wrote a story for this week’s edition of the MBJ that looks at all the discord over the proposal to rename Mississippi University for Women Reneau University.

There has been very little meeting of the minds since MUW President Claudia Limbert announced Aug. 10 that Reneau was the choice. The alumnae association has come out strongly against a name change, suggesting a “re-branding” of the university instead. Business groups are mixed. The Mississippi Economic Council and the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link support it. Some of the Link’s members oppose it. I talked to two of them for the story.

I tried to contact a couple legislators who serve on the Universities and Colleges Committee in both the House and Senate but did not hear back from any until the issue had gone to press. I heard from Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs Universities and Colleges, as the presses were literally running.

Davis did not come down firmly on either side of the issue, but did say that any conversation and/or debate that centered on higher education in Mississippi was fine with him. Davis and other lawmakers, and the College Board who will have to sign off on the proposal before it can reach the Capitol, will no doubt be besieged by groups advocating for and against Reneau. It’s an emotional issue and both sides seem to have dug in for a fight. Should be interesting.

Governor, First Lady salute Katrina volunteers

August 27th, 2009 No comments

As we mentioned yesterday, Gov. Barbour and First Lady Marsha Barbour were scheduled to honor two volunteers who helped Mississippi out a whole bunch after Hurricane Katrina. Honor them they did.

Ellen Ratner and Cholene Espinoza, two New Yorkers who work for Talk Radio News Service, were at the Governor’s Mansion this afternoon to be recognized for the work they did after Katrina. Barbour said for the first 12 months after Katrina, the state was able to capture the names and addresses of 600,000 different volunteers who helped with the recovery.

“They came from literally every state in the country and many from outside the United States,” the governor said

Ratner and Espinoza played a big part in the building of the Marsha Barbour Community Resource Center in DeLisle in Harrison County. “They took the bull by the horns and they raised the money and put the team together, the team on the ground,” Gov. Barbour said.

Dedication for the Center is Saturday. It will feature a swimming pool, computer lab, a medical room to treat minor medical issues, a basketball court and everything else a community center needs.

“The only way I can reconcile the images of Katrina is if something good came of it,” Espinoza said.

Ratner, in her role as the host of a liberal-leaning talk show, has known Barbour a while. She had a lot of good things to say about Marsha Barbour and her work immediately after the storm.

“This is an amazing story and it’s an amazing story of true leadership,” Ratner said.

Ratner and Espinoza are only two of the army of people who spent their own time and money to help South Mississippi get back on its feet. As big as the storm was, the helping hand we got was even bigger. That’s probably one of the most important things to remember as the fourth anniversary approaches.

So to Ratner, Espinoza and all the others: Thanks, ya’ll.

Governor, First Lady holding press conference

August 26th, 2009 No comments

Gov. Barbour and his wife Marsha will hold a press conference tomorrow afternoon to recognize some of the volunteers who have helped South Mississippi with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina and who have had a hand in the development of the Marsha Barbour Community Resource Center in Pass Christian. If you’ll remember, the First Lady was on the frontlines during and after the storm.┬áThe details of the press conference will be posted as soon as it’s over.

The four-year anniversary of Katrina is this Saturday. Hard to believe. Magnolia Marketplace is playing in a charity golf tournament in Gulfport that day, a day that should carry a lot of emotions for our fine folks on the Coast.

Toyota slashing production

August 26th, 2009 3 comments

And a good Wednesday morning to all. The college football season kicks off in eight — eight! — days. That’s a week and a day. Take out the weekend, and really it’s only six days. Magnolia Marketplace is boldly going out on a limb and declaring that football season will be here in less than a week. Spread the word.

On to not-so-happy news. Toyota has confirmed rumors that started popping up yesterday that it plans to cut worldwide production by about 10 percent. With sales slumping, the company has a production surplus and will idle plants in the U.S. and overseas. Best I can tell, the only American facility affected is the one in Northern California Toyota once shared with General Motors. It will close, which is no big surprise because the move had been rumored for weeks.

How does this affect Mississippi? Well, it probably does nothing to speed the process of opening the Prius Hybrid (or whatever is hopefully, maybe, eventually built there) plant in Blue Springs. It doesn’t make any sense to slash global production by a significant number and open a new facility at the same time.

Mississippi’s other automotive manufacturer has news of its own. Nissan is retrofitting about 60 of its “tugs” at its Smyrna, Tenn., plant with methanol fuel cells. The tugs, which look like mini forklifts, shuttle parts and materials from one part of the facility to another. The fuel cells replace regular batteries, are more energy efficient and require fewer man hours to replace. Details are here. Smyrna is the guinea pig for this technology. The release doesn’t mention anything about the Canton plant. I have a call in to a Nissan North America spokesman to see if this technology will eventually make its way down here. When I hear from him, I’ll post an update.

Updated at 11:20 a.m. : Just got off the phone with a Nissan spokesman, who said the methanol fuel cells will undergo a three-year trial run in Smyrna to gauge their viability. If the company is pleased with the results, there is a possibility the technology will expand into other facilities, including the Canton plant.

Categories: Manufacturing, News, Nissan, Toyota Tags:

CARS program has clunky computers

August 25th, 2009 No comments

Breaking news this afternoon about the Cash for Clunkers program. The deadline for consumers to receive a government voucher on their jalopy trade-in came and went last night, but problems remain.

The computer system the government uses to process rebate claims from dealers has crashed — again. The deadline for dealers to file a claim is 8 p.m. EDT today. The National Automobile Dealers Association says it’s considering asking for the deadline to be bumped back a second time. The original claims deadline was last night, but was extended because dealers couldn’t access the system due to high demand. NADA had made a prior request to extend the deadline until Aug. 31.

When the official computer of Magnolia Marketplace takes too long to load a sports blog, it’s annoying (and it’s happened too often this week already). To have untold amounts of money riding on a computer system functioning properly, and then it not doing so, is enough to inspire this.

Categories: News Tags:

Entergy clarification

August 25th, 2009 No comments

An update to a story that has been percolating for a couple years now: Entergy Mississippi’s new transmission building on West County Line Road in Jackson is nearly complete. I can personally vouch for that because the building in Echelon Business Park is right on the way to the ranch where my dad and I keep our Tennessee Walking Horses. I pass by it several times a week. Fine-looking place.

Anyway, a story in today’s Clarion-Ledger has caused some confusion in Entergy’s New Orleans office, said spokeswoman Mara Hartmann. Hartmann said the C-L’s story is accurate, based on the information she had when she was interviewed. I talked to Hartmann a few minutes ago, and things have changed slightly. Yes, 200 workers will eventually be employed at the new facility. Yes, about half of them are already here; and yes, the other half will trickle in through the end of 2010.

But not all of them will come from New Orleans or Baton Rouge. Rather, some will come from the company’s offices in Texas and Arkansas, as well. Those who choose not to relocate, according to Hartmann, can remain where they are and those jobs will be filled by folks most likely from the Jackson area. Folks at Entergy’s New Orleans office had raised an eyebrow or two, thinking they were losing 200 jobs to Jackson. Not the case.

Categories: News Tags:

Health czar on the firing line

August 25th, 2009 No comments

President Obama and his family are vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard this week. Obama’s health care reform czar, Nancy-Ann DeParle, probably wishes she had been invited.

DeParle was the target yesterday of governors who had a lot of questions about the health care reform package that has dominated the political conversation during the August Congressional recess. The discussion was part of the Southern Governors Association’s annual meeting in Virginia.

Specifically, the governors wanted to know how much the plan, if it becomes reality, will impact state budgets, small business bottom lines and how it will affect Medicaid eligibility. Pretty tough questions.

Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in attendance and has opposed the bill from the beginning, told DeParle that if states had to pay even a small portion of the cost of reforming health care, it would guarantee a tax increase, because states are so cash-strapped already.

The full story is here.

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“Huge” announcement

August 24th, 2009 No comments

It’s an unseasonably cool Monday morning in Jackson, and there’s some news to pass along.

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson is holding a press conference at 10 a.m. at the McCoy Federal Building to announce a new development. The press release from Downtown Jackson Partners President Ben Allen said it’s going to be “huge.” That was as specific as it got. Magnolia Marketplace will be there and will provide the details as soon as it wraps.

What it could it be? Stay tuned.

Updated at 10:25 a.m.: The McCoy Federal Building is getting $80 million worth of modernization work, including new HVAC units and interior repair to make the building more energy efficient. There will also be the construction of a new security pavilion at the entrance. The project is funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. New MBJ staff writer Nash Nunnery will have a full story up on the site soon.

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Retirees, come on down!

August 21st, 2009 No comments

We had made plans to include this in the Aug. 24 edition of the MBJ, but got squeezed by time and space limits.

Anyway, Kiplinger.com has named Mississippi one of the country’s most tax-friendly states for retirees. The full analysis is here. Mississippi got the hat tip from the personal finance Web site because Social Security benefits and qualified retirement income — including IRAs, 401 (k)s, 402 (b)s and public, private and military pensions — elude the state income tax man’s grasp. Overall, Kiplinger.com said Mississippi offered a “sweet deal” for retirees.

California, on the other hand, constituted a “nightmare” with its tax laws, which basically read like this: If it moves, tax it (and somehow they’re still broke). The full interactive map is here.

Categories: News Tags:

State Port at Gulfport

August 19th, 2009 No comments

Moving forward there hopefully will be a new post before this time every morning, but Magnolia Marketplace has just gotten Internet service back after losing it late yesterday afternoon. The final tally: One replaced ethernet cord and one very patient, helpful and probably frustrated IT guy at the corporate office in Minnesota. To some news …

My trip to Gulfport last month for the “ground-making” ceremony at the State Port was one of the neatest things I’ve done since I started here.

Several college buddies live on the Coast, and I’d passed both Port entrances probably 100 times, but the ceremony was the first time it had registered. What jumped out immediately were the hundreds of tractor trailers that had the Chiquita Banana logo on them.

Anyway, the Port is undergoing a rebuilding and expansion as part of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina. Word came yesterday afternoon that the Mississippi State Port Authority had awarded a contract to Pennsylvania-based Geospatial Holdings to map the Port’s underground pipeline utilities. Geospatial is part of a team that includes Mississippi Engineering Group, part of Jackson-based Waggoner Engineering, and Pickering Engineers, which is based in Memphis but has offices in Jackson, Pearl, Southaven and Biloxi. The group will eventually map above-ground and underground utilities before the heavy lifting of the 20-acre expansion can start.

By itself the underground mapping contract, according to a press release, is expected to be worth about $3 million over three years. The overall cost of the expansion is $22.5 million, paid for with federal money. Along with expanding it, the Port will eventually be elevated to 25 feet above sea level to minimize damage from future hurricanes. Gov. Haley Barbour’s decision to set aside $570 million in Community Development Block Grants to pay for the elevation has drawn a lawsuit from the NAACP and criticism from several Democrats in Congress who want that money used for low- and moderate-income housing. The lawsuit is ongoing.