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Archive for March, 2011

Natchez casino developers hope deal reached with city by April 7

March 23rd, 2011 1 comment

We’ve written a couple stories recently about the stalled casino project on Natchez’s famed Roth Hill.

In early February, Natchez aldermen determined via 5-1 vote that the developers had failed to comply with the terms of the lease option agreement that was forged three years ago — namely, that they had failed to show sufficient progress on the project. In reality, there has been little tangible progress made since February 2008, only planning and design work.

Included in the failure-to-comply resolution was a letter from the city to Premier Gaming Group, the Lane Company and Natchez Enterprises that gave them until April 7 to come into compliance.

We’ve been trying to nail down an interview with Kevin Preston, president of Premier Gaming, for nearly a month now. We’ve traded emails, but getting him on the phone has been, well, a challenge. In one of the emails he sent in response to an interview request, Preston said he understood the frustration city officials felt, adding that Premier Gaming had no intention of abandoning the $45 million project, which they’ve been working on for two years after Lane and Natchez Enterprises brought the Kentucky-based company on board to revive the project. It had stalled in 2008 as the recession spread. “Our goal is to finalize funding and construct a first-class gaming facility Natchez can be proud of,” Preston wrote.

In another email Preston sent yesterday, he said he had actually been in Natchez the past few days, and was confident that a resolution would be reached by April 7, the deadline set in the letter.

What kind of agreement he’s talking about is anybody’s guess.

Will the Japan disaster affect Toyota’s Blue Springs plant? Let’s find out (Updated)

March 14th, 2011 No comments

While it’s certainly not the most important issue, Toyota announced late Sunday night that it has suspended production at all of its Japanese facilities in the wake of the earthquake and ensuing tsunamis.

Toyota said in a press release that it had received no reports of major injuries at any of its Japanese facilities, including its Tokyo headquarters.

The suspended production, though, got us to wondering if all of this would have any sort of effect on the Blue Springs plant, which is scheduled to start making Corollas this fall. We have calls into Toyota’s North American headquarters. When we hear back, we’ll tell what we know. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: We just got off the phone with Barbara McDaniel, Toyota’s external affairs manager for its Southeast operations. “The short answer is no,” she said, referring to the possibility that the shutdown in Japan could push back or otherwise delay the opening of the Blue Springs plant. “The production stoppage in Japan will have no impact on Blue Springs at this point. All of our other North American facilities are running on schedule.”

Obviously, this will be something to watch, as Japan begins its recovery. And watch we will.

KiOR’s offtake agreement a major step forward

March 9th, 2011 No comments

Double-shot of news about KiOR on a wet Wednesday morning, so let’s jump right into it.

First, a correction to our story that ran in the Feb. 28 edition about a study MSU did that determined there’s ample timber in Mississippi to support the three facilities KiOR plans to build here. We reported that each of the facilities — in Columbus, Newton County and Franklin County — would use between 2,500 and 3,750 tons of wood daily to produce the re-crude that can be later refined into diesel or gasoline.

That isn’t exactly right. The Columbus facility, which is under construction now, will only use about 500 tons of wood per day. The other two, while they are larger than the Columbus facility, will use “significantly less” than the 2,500 and 3,750 per-day total, according to a KiOR spokesperson. Sorry if we caused any confusion. There’s a lot of excitement across a range of industries about KiOR’s plans for Mississippi.

That was intensified Tuesday, when KiOR announced it had reached a purchase agreement with Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Hunt Refining Company, which will buy and refine the renewable gasoline and diesel blendstocks and fuel oil produced in Columbus.

This is perhaps the biggest development since KiOR’s announcement last summer, because the company couldn’t take advantage of the $75 million in state incentives until it had reached an offtake agreement with a refinery.

No details were available about the length of the agreement.

Davis talks budget, redistricting at Stennis luncheon

March 7th, 2011 No comments

Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Monday he was “a little bit surprised” at Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant submitting his own redistricting plan late last week.

Davis was the speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson.

Bryant’s move came after the Senate Congressional Redistricting Committee and its chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, had earlier passed a plan of its own. Davis said the Senators would take up one of the plans when they gavel in Monday afternoon. Whether it’s Bryant’s or Newton’s is anybody’s guess.

“From speaking with some senior members of the Senate, I’ve gathered that this is the first time the process has been handled this way,” Davis said, referring to the dueling redistricting proposals.

We should note that Davis didn’t sound like he was criticizing Bryant; he was, in our view, just pointing out the unique situation the Senate finds itself in. How that shakes out should make for fascinating political theater.

On the budget side, Davis wouldn’t commit to many specific numbers, but he did say that Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have funded community colleges at the level they asked for was a good idea. “It’s entirely too early,” Davis said, to dole out money when budget-writers don’t have a crystal clear picture on what the revenue situation will be.

Each of the state’s K-12 districts can expect the same amount of funding in FY 2012 as they received in FY 2011, Davis said. “Budgeting in an election year during good times is difficult,” he said. “Budgeting in a recession and an election year and having to go through redistricting is a challenge the legislature hasn’t gone through in many, many years.”

Swoope set the bar

March 1st, 2011 1 comment

Magnolia Marketplace talks to a lot of economic developers, mostly because whatever story we’re working on requires their input.

Some are easy to track down. Some are almost never available. Some we like personally and professionally. Some we can barely tolerate no matter the context.

The folks who fall in that latter category usually end up there because the only time they make themselves available for an interview is when the subject matter allows them to beat their chests — for example, their area just landed a huge project and they want to make sure they’re at the front of the credit-claiming line. When the questions aren’t so easy, though, they’re impossible to find; and if we can find them, they have absolutely nothing to say.

In our more than three years at the MBJ, we never had that problem with Gray Swoope. Swoope is the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority who is heading to Florida to lead economic development efforts in that state. Gov. Haley Barbour was exactly right when he said in a statement that Florida’s gain is Mississippi’s loss.

If we needed to talk to Swoope, he found time for us, and not only when the subject matter allowed him to gloat, which he never did anyway. In fact, the last interview we had with him, Swoope was traveling and had pulled his car to the side of the road so he wouldn’t have to drive and talk on his cell phone. Once, he was in Paris at an airshow as part of the effort to land the doomed, politically rigged Air Force tanker contract for Mobile and South Mississippi, but still found time to answer questions via email.

Swoope got it. He knew dealing with media was a part of his job, so he did it and didn’t farm it out to his PR team or hide behind an assistant. He was available and honest.

Here’s hoping his successor shares those traits.