Archive for October, 2012

MSU economists lay out good news and bad news related to Sandy’s financial impact

October 30th, 2012 No comments

The economic damage from Sandy, which meteorologists and scientists dubbed “Frankenstorm” before and during her strike on the Northeastern U.S. Monday, will likely take months to calculate.

Mississippi State University economists said Tuesday that, like the storm surge in Manhattan and along the Jersey Shore, Sandy’s financial impact could be historic. Part of that will be the losses incurred by the New York Stock Exchange’s closure Monday and Tuesday.

“It’s very rare for the markets to close, even for a weather event,” said Mike Highfield, associate professor of finance and head of Mississippi State University’s Department of Finance and Economics.

The last time markets closed due to weather was 1888. Officials announced Tuesday morning that they would reopen Wednesday.

Based on history, Highfield said the reopening could produce less-than-desirable results. “Many times we see a fall when the stock market does reopen, mainly because of the event itself which caused the closure.”

Because Sandy made landfall among the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard – New York City got a direct hit, and Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia were heavily impacted – Highfield said an economic loss of $20 billion just in property dame is possible. Factor in loss of tax revenue from wages, lost work time, and a general loss of commerce, and that figure could rise to $60 billion, he said.

That could make for a short-term economic slide, but it could also present investors with opportunities in the industries that support rebuilding. That was the case along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, spurred mainly by Gulf Opportunity Zone Bonds.

Sandy’s death toll as of Tuesday morning had climbed over 30. “In the long run, it may be somewhat of an economic shot, but it will take several, several months. In the meantime, there is a lot of agony and sadness from a human point of view,” Highfield said in a school press release.

If the storm’s track made it potentially more expensive, it could also lead to good news within the oil and gas industry. Gas prices soared in the immediate aftermath of Katrina. That probably won’t be the case with Sandy, said Jon Rezek, associate professor of economics and director of Mississippi State’s international business program. Sandy did nothing to cause supply interruption at any of the Gulf Coast’s 54 refineries. The Northeast is home to only six such facilities.

“For the most part, gasoline will flow from a lot of the refineries down here to the rest of the country, with fairly minimal impact in terms of a price increase,” Rezek said. “In total, these facilities in the Northeast refine only about 6 percent of the country’s crude oil. Given the relative lack of refining capacity in the Northeast, a supply disruption there over the next few days will not likely cause near the disruption that Gulf storms have on national or regional gasoline prices.”

Tuesday, the price for a barrel of benchmark crude oil rose 55 cents to $86.09. The average price for a gallon of gas fell one cent, to $3.53, more than 11 cents cheaper than two weeks ago.


Massive absorber haul for Kemper County coal plant to start Sunday night

October 26th, 2012 1 comment

Those on both sides of Mississippi Power’s Kemper County coal plant have agreed that it’s a massive construction project.

A perfect illustration of that will slowly roll down East Mississippi highways starting Sunday night.

Columbus-based Burkhalter Rigging will transport two hydrogen sulfide absorbers from Bigbee Valley, a Noxubee County outpost 30 miles south of Columbus, to the Kemper site.

The 76-mile trip will take a week to complete, and the sheer numbers of the move are staggering.

Each of the absorbers is 238 feet long, 21 feet wide, 21 feet high and weighs 1.4 million pounds, according to a Burkhalter press release. Each will be carried on trucks and trailers that have a combined 160 axles, with center dollies and wing dollies to be used at bridge crossings to distribute the weight evenly across the span.

This is one of the hydrogen sulfide absorbers Burkhalter Rigging will begin transporting Sunday night to the Kemper County coal plant’s construction site.

Each 732-wheel transport rig will be 28 feet tall, 22 feet wide, 346 feet long and weigh just shy of 2.5 million pounds. When the wing dollies are deployed to get the transporters across the Noxubee River bridge, the rig will grow to a width of 40 feet and roll on 796 tires.

The convoy, which will include all manner of pilot cars and law enforcement vehicles serving as escorts, will leave Tenn-Tom One Stop at 8 p.m. Sunday and travel down Highway 388 to Highway 45, traveling south in the northbound lane to Scooba. From there, it will head west on Highway 16 through DeKalb before turning south on Highway 493, which will drop it off at the Kemper site.

The convoy will only roll at night. Road closure information can be found on the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s website,

The absorbers were built in Korea and shipped to Alabama’s Port of Mobile. When they arrived, Burkhalter crews put them on barges and floated them up the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway to Bigbee Valley.

Daily updates and photos of the haul will be available on Burkhalter’s Facebook page at


In Greenville, Cox intends to finish what Jordan started

October 24th, 2012 No comments

In late September, one day after he revealed he would resign his post due to a terminal cancer diagnosis, former Greenville mayor Chuck Jordan called his longtime friend, John Cox, and asked him to run to replace him.

Cox, an attorney who’s practiced in Greenville for almost 40 years, told Jordan he’d have to clear it with his wife. That promised to be no easy task, since she had told him in 1990 that he was never allowed to enter politics again after Cox had lost a county judge’s race.

“So I had to ask her about five different ways if I could do this,” Cox said Wednesday afternoon.

She relented, Cox entered the race and on Monday was elected to fill the rest of Jordan’s term. He got 57 percent of the vote in a five-person race.

Cox was sworn in Wednesday morning. In a phone interview a few hours afterward, he said he plans to continue implementation of the five-point plan Jordan set in motion late last year. It includes crime reduction, job creation, education accountability, infrastructure improvements and general clean-up.

“When you’ve got something that works, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Cox said. “(Jordan’s) vision and his plan were excellent. Chuck took a lot of time developing that, so I’ve adopted it. Let’s just call it a quality-of-life plan. That’s what has to happen in any community to be successful. To the outside world, to tourists, to businesses, if your quality of life isn’t where it needs to be, you have a problem.”

Cox said he realizes he’s taking the job under less-than-ideal circumstances. Jordan’s announcement last month that he had pancreatic cancer his doctors expected would likely kill him within months blindsided all but those closest to him. Cox was among those who never saw it coming, and didn’t initially know what to tell Jordan when he asked him to run “because I hadn’t even gotten over the emotion of a friend that I’d had for 40 years being dealt a situation like that.”

That conflict resolved, Cox admitted he has a lot of learning to do in his first 100 days in office. Part of that will be establishing a relationship with Greenville’s six city council members, and familiarizing himself with city departments and their personnel. Getting up to speed on the budget and budgeting process is another major agenda item, Cox said.

There are recent successes to build on. Cox listed as an example the first ever Delta Hot Tamale Festival, held Oct. 20. The festival got its name from Jordan, who, in one of his last acts as mayor, declared Greenville the “Hot Tamale Capital of the World.” The distinction is due in no small part to the tamales at Doe’s Eat Place, a restaurant also famous for its steak that is an icon of the Mississippi Delta.

“That was just over the top,” Cox said of the moniker and the festival. “Chuck’s vision is going to affect Greenville for a long time. His shoes are too big for me to fill. I just hope I can grow into them.”

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Mass. company acquires controlling interest in Highland Village

October 24th, 2012 No comments

WS Development announced Wednesday morning that it had acquired a controlling interest in Highland Village shopping center in Jackson.

The company, based in Chestnut Hill, Mass., is making its first entry into Mississippi.

Guy Boyll III, who was Highland Village’s VP of operations under old ownership but will serve as asset manager under the new arrangement, said in a press release that he and other existing partners will work with WS in the management of the 220,000 square-foot, mixed-use shopping center.

The newest retailer – Whole Foods Market – is scheduled to break ground next month on a 30,000 square-foot grocery store that will open next fall.

WS partner Dick Marks said his company’s acquisition of the shopping center does nothing to change that. “We are thrilled to become a part of this extraordinary center and to bring Whole Foods Market to Mississippi.”

Highland Village opened in 1972 and offers nearly 50 retailers, from clothing boutiques to outdoors outfitters to jewelers and fine dining restaurants. It was built by late Jackson businessman and philanthropist Jimmy Fowler. Three generations of his family have owned it since.

Boyll said in a phone interview Wednesday morning that the deal had been in the works for a year and a half. He emphasized that it would do nothing to change Whole Foods’ plans.

Terms were not disclosed, but WS said that it only pursues retail-related real estate investments that exceed $10 million.

“WS Development shares the family’s belief that the best shopping centers not only serve their communities, but also become part of them,” Marks says.

Cox wins special mayoral election in Greenville

October 23rd, 2012 No comments

John Cox appears to have won Monday’s special mayoral election in Greenville.

Cox, an attorney, got 57 percent (3,323) of the 6,339 votes cast, according to figures reported by the Delta Democrat Times.

Just more than 500 affidavit ballots were left to be counted Tuesday morning. Cox turned back three challengers.

The election became necessary in late September, when former mayor Chuck Jordan resigned in the wake of a terminal cancer diagnosis. Jordan endorsed Cox shortly after his resignation.

This is the second consecutive election voters in Greenville, whose population is 78 percent black, have elected a white mayor. Jordan, who retired from the banking industry before his election last year, attributed that to voters prioritizing the future of Greenville over political or social affiliations.

“The people in Greenville have spoken and said they want to go in a new direction,” Jordan told the Mississippi Business Journal in December.

Election commissioners will meet Tuesday afternoon to certify the election results. Cox’s swearing-in is set for Wednesday morning at 9 at Greenville City Hall.

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Gill remembered for rural advocacy, kind demeanor

October 19th, 2012 No comments

Among his many passions, there were two of Joel Gill’s that surfaced more often than the others – his love of Mississippi’s rural communities and his desire to help Mississippi cattlemen.

Gill, the Pickens mayor who ran as a Democrat for Congress in 2008 and for agriculture commissioner last year, was killed in a car wreck Thursday evening in Holmes County. Details of the wreck were not available from the Mississippi Highway Patrol Friday morning, but Jackson television station WAPT reported that Gill hit a tree on Highway 17.

Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said Gill was one of the few politicians running for an office that covered a large district (or in the case of ag commissioner, the entire state) who made it a point to visit as many rural communities as he could, and not concentrate on the larger voter clusters.

“One of the things that he always talked about was how small, little rural communities get forgotten about,” Presley said.

Presley said he ran into Gill last year at the volunteer fire department in Cardsville, a tiny spot on the map in Itawamba County. Gill was there asking for votes as part of his run against current ag commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, who ended up winning handily.

“You have to admire somebody who would take on running for a statewide office and just get in his vehicle and go out and ask for votes, knowing full well he was up against a wall of money and a wall of advertisements,” Presley said. “He believed doing that was just important as putting an advertisement on TV.

“And what a fine fellow,” Presley continued. “He was a man that was in it for all the right reasons. It wasn’t about Joel Gill, it was about the public. What a great credit for being staunch in his beliefs, but not being offensive about it. He was firm in what he believed was right, but he never tried to hurt anybody with it. Never shied away from being a Democrat, never shied away from being a rural advocate, but he was never in your face. All of us, Brandon Presley included, could learn from that. He was a gentle, kind, Christian man.”

Politics wasn’t all Gill did. He and his brother started running the family cattle business, Mississippi Order Buyers Inc., in the late 1970s. Gill served on the Mississippi Beef Council and was president of the Mississippi Livestock Markets Association.

One of his pet issues was the country of origin labeling law that requires retailers to provide county-of-origin labeling on fresh beef, pork and lamb.

“He worked long and hard on that,” said Sammy Blossom, executive director of the Mississippi Beef Council.

Blossom said Gill almost never missed a meeting of the Beef Council in his 20 years of service to the organization.

“He was so passionate about his beliefs and his philosophy,” Blossom said.

Gill is survived by his wife, two children and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized Friday morning.

Freedom Trail marker to be presented Thursday at Jackson State

October 17th, 2012 No comments

The fourth Mississippi Freedom Trail marker will be unveiled Thursday morning on the campus of Jackson State University.

The marker will commemorate the student protests at what was then known as Jackson State College in 1970. On May 14, students had gathered on Lynch Street to protest the American invasion of Cambodia that was part of the Vietnam War.

Protesters set fires, threw rocks at motorists and overturned vehicles. Two students were killed by law enforcement gunfire while city and state police attempted to control the crowd while firefighters tried to extinguish the blazes.

Exactly what provoked police to open fire is still a mystery. Police reported seeing a sniper firing from a nearby roof, though a subsequent FBI investigation turned up no evidence of that. Students claimed they did nothing to warrant having weapons turned on them.

The killings came 10 days after a similar incident at Kent State University in Ohio.

The marker, which will stand on Lynch Street across from Rose E. McCoy Auditorium, will be unveiled at 11:30 a.m. The project is a joint venture of the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division and the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

VSporto sets listenership record in September

October 16th, 2012 No comments

Ridgeland-based VSporto had in September the most listeners it’s ever had in a single month, the company announced last week.

The company developed and operates Rebel Sports Radio and Bulldog Sports Radio, both of which provide 24-hour team-specific programming that is available online and via apps for iPhone and Android platforms.

The channels launched just over a year ago, and have grown their audiences steadily since. Those numbers peaked in September, when VSporto says it reached 195,885 listeners for the month, which included online streams. (That’s more than the combined capacity of the football stadiums at Ole Miss and Mississippi State.) Those listeners streamed more than 62,000 hours of content, the company said.

A chart that shows how VSporto’s listenership has grown from September 2011 to last month can be seen here.


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Vicksburg river museum has 3,000 visitors in first full month

October 15th, 2012 No comments

The Lower Mississippi River Museum and Interpretative Site in Vicksburg had just short of 3,000 visitors in September, the first full month it was open.

The numbers were released Thursday by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which funded and built the museum.

The museum’s mission is to help its visitors understand how the Mississippi River and its tributaries that stretch from St. Louis to the Gulf of Mexico work together to create a waterway whose waterborne commerce is a big contributor to economic development for the cities and towns up and down their banks.

Exhibits include an outdoor model of the river from Vicksburg to Greenville, a 1,500-gallon aquarium that features aquatic life native to the river and a retired Corps of Engineers towboat. The model includes a demonstration of how the levees work in normal and flood waters. Lat year, the levee system experienced its toughest test since it was built in the early 1930s when a 100-year flood pushed against it.

No major breaches were reported, and the levees generally earned praise for saving towns like Vicksburg from historic floodwaters.

The museum opened in mid-August. Its hours of operation are Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from April to October from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays.

Fifth Circuit asks for briefs related to non-economic damages cap

October 8th, 2012 No comments

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has asked attorneys involved in a personal injury lawsuit that brought into question the constitutionality of Mississippi’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages to re-brief the issue.

The cap was a large part of the state’s tort reform in 2004.

The order the appeals court entered Friday comes on the heels of the Mississippi Supreme Court refusing to decide the cap’s constitutionality over the summer.

Lisa Learmonth sued Sears and Roebuck Co. after she was involved in a car wreck with one of the company’s vehicles. A federal court jury awarded her $4 million in damages, but the presiding judge reduced the award to comply with the cap. Learmonth’s attorneys, arguing the cap was unconstitutional, appealed that decision to the Fifth Circuit, which kicked the issue to the state supreme court with the directive that justices decide the constitutionality question.

Attorneys for Sears have until Oct. 22 to re-brief the issue. Attorneys for Learmonth and the state must respond by Nov. 5.

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