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MDA boss: Incentives here to stay

Mississippi Development Authority executive director Brent Christensen said that agency will examine the possibility of lending financial help to start-up companies like Twin Creeks “with a different eye,” and any aid package will likely look different than those of the past.

Christensen, in his first extended session with the media Wednesday morning, also released a report that detailed the amount of economic development incentives the state has issued since fiscal year 2008. Christensen added that he will make the release of similar data an annual thing.

Numbers show that from FY 2008 until the end of FY 2012 last June, the state gave out incentives totaling $520,397,565 in the form of grants, loans, tax credits, tax rebates and other devices. Those incentives resulted in a total of 32,268 jobs being committed, though MDA CFO Kathy Gelston said some of the incentives were for job-retention programs, which means those jobs have already been realized.

Eliminating duplicate job counts, the incentive-per-job ratio comes to $20,794.

How they’re given and who receives incentives is getting a fresh look at the MDA, Christensen said, and not just because of the recent failure of Twin Creeks. The Senatobia solar panel manufacturer owes the state $26 million it got to build its 80,000 square-foot facility and to purchase equipment. The MDA is marketing the building in an attempt to find a tenant. The state also has sued Twin Creeks in an attempt to recoup some or all of its investment.

Christensen, like Gov. Phil Bryant recently, said the state would be hesitant to go into business with start-up companies like Twin Creeks.

“And if we do, our incentive packages will likely look different than they have,” Christensen said. “We’ll continue to look at those kind of projects, just with a different eye. There has to be significant private investment.” Private investment in Twin Creeks had reached $100 million. The state chipped in $25 million of a $50 million loan package that was available.

State aid in newer or start-up companies will probably help with workforce development and infrastructure, instead of actually financing the company, Christensen said. Ghelston said companies having in-hand the money to build their facility would likely be a requirement, too.

What will not change is the actual practice of issuing incentives, Christensen said. “The only way they go away is the federal government bans them, which would lead to widespread litigation, or all 50 states get in a room and agree to drop their weapons,” Christensen said.

The Southeastern U.S. is particularly competitive when it comes to economic development. Christensen listed Alabama’s recently upping its ceiling on incentives by $130 million via referendum, designed to help that state land Airbus suppliers connected to the aircraft manufacturer’s Mobile facility.

South Mississippi wants in on those suppliers, Christensen said, and incentives will be a part of that pursuit.

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