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In pursuit of Google, Oxford presses on

April 12th, 2011 No comments

On March 30, Google announced that it would deploy its super-fast, next-generation broadband network in Kansas City, Kan.

The announcement came a year after applications started coming in from cities and towns across the U.S. that hoped to be the site for the broadband experiment. Google said it received about 1,100 applications.

One came from Oxford, where local attorney Stewart Rutledge led the effort to land Google’s grand prize.

Magnolia Marketplace spoke with Rutledge Monday morning. The gist of the conversation was this: There isn’t much clarity as to whether Kansas City will be the only winner. Google could set up shop in another applicant city, or it could put all its 1Gbps eggs in Kansas City’s basket.

“The original campaign was very ambiguous,” Rutledge said. “It definitely led the public to believe there would be at least one winner, and it heavily implied there would be multiple winners.”

For its part, Google isn’t saying one way or another. Two weeks before the Kansas City news broke, Rutledge wrote a letter to Google seeking to gain a little clarity about a timetable for announcing a winner, and if there would be one or multiple winners. The letter, which has gone unanswered, also made the case for Oxford.

“Google said they wanted this to reach people who were underserved when it came to broadband access,” he said. “Well, if you go 10 miles from Oxford in either direction, you’ll find 10,000 people who fit into that category. Of course, they have every right to do what they want. I would liken it to a grant program with less clear guidelines.”

For now, Rutledge said he and city officials will maintain as much communication with Google as possible, and hope for the best. Rutledge’s work hasn’t cost Oxford anything. He’s worked on this for free.

“We want to maintain the relationship, even though it’s been a one-way relationship so far,” Rutledge said. “We certainly haven’t let it die.”

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.

Viking Classic economic impact numbers have arrived

January 27th, 2011 No comments

Thursday morning, Magnolia Marketplace got some numbers we’ve been waiting on for several weeks.

A study commissioned by the Mississippi Development Authority and conducted by Mississippi State’s College of Business and its Extension Service took a look at the economic impact of the PGA Tour’s Viking Classic, played every year at Annandale Golf Club in Madison.

Surveyors asked 2,500 attendees at last fall’s Viking how much money they spent on things like food, gas, hotel rooms, how much money they spent at the course on memorabilia, etc.

Here’s what they found:

The total economic impact of the tournament is $22 million. That includes a value added total of $12.5 million, which reflects things like return in rents, wages, interest and profits, according to a press release from MSU. That economic activity created 362 jobs, including 280 direct jobs and 77 indirect jobs.

“It’s a significant amount,” said Dr. Becky Smith, an economist for the College of Business who coordinated the project with Garen Evans and Al Myles, MSU Extension economists in the agricultural economics department.

The total estimated impact on labor income came in at $7.2 million, including $4.9 million worth of income directly attributable to the event, and an another $2.3 million from indirect and induced impacts. Estimated sales taxes collected from Viking-related spending was $1.5 million.

Before this latest study, the last economic impact analysis of the Viking Classic came in the mid-1990s and pegged it at $20 million. It’s no surprise at all that the new numbers came in over that.

These figures will be a part of the sales pitch for tournament organizers when it comes time to sit down with Viking Range to start renewal negotiations. Viking’s title sponsorship contract expires after this year’s tournament, which will be played in July instead of September.

The MDA paid MSU $30,000 to conduct the study. Surveys were taken by undergraduate students at MSU’s College of Business and were gathered during the three-day run-up to the tournament and during the four days of play.

Duvall surprised at level of attention his Ole Miss bill is getting

January 26th, 2011 No comments

In the 2009 legislative session, Rep. Mark Duvall, D-Mantachie, was one of two authors of a bill that would have prohibited the use of automated cameras on streets and highways to catch folks speeding, running stop signs or red lights or any other illegal traffic shenanigans. The bill eventually gained Gov. Haley Barbour’s approval and the use of any kind of electronic recording equipment to police traffic is now illegal in Mississippi.

Duvall, who’s in his first term, got a lot of blowback on that issue, but nothing like he’s getting now on his bill that would mandate the Ole Miss mascot be Colonel Rebel, the sports teams’ nickname be Rebels, and that the band play “Dixie.”

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a 15-minute phone conversation with Duvall. We’ll get to what he said in just a second, but first a little background on Duvall:

After graduating from Mantachie High School, he attended Itawamba Community College with the hopes of majoring in pharmacy at Ole Miss. Before he finished at ICC, he decided he wanted to major in engineering, so Mississippi State made the most sense. He said he pulls for Ole Miss except when the Rebels play the Bulldogs.

“And then I’m a Bulldog fan,” he said.

So with that in mind, why did Duvall introduce this bill?

“Out of concern that was expressed to me from some of the folks in my district because of the mascot change,” he said. “They didn’t feel they were getting their point across to the athletic department and the administration, so I said I’d do whatever I could to help that happen. Filing this bill is the only way I could do that.”

House Bill 1106 has been referred to the Universities and Colleges Committee. Duvall realizes it has virtually no shot of making it out to the House floor. Like the traffic camera bill two years ago, Duvall said it’s possible the mascot/Dixie legislation could be attached to an appropriations bill. “But that would all depend on the mood of the House,” he said. Duvall added that he has not received any direct feedback from Ole Miss brass.

He’s received plenty from everybody else.

“I really didn’t think it would get this much coverage,” he said. “My email inbox is flooded. My cell phone won’t stop ringing. I’m pretty sure my secretary is ready for this to be over, but it’s all part of the process.”

Why isn’t Cawood consulting our community colleges?

January 5th, 2011 No comments

Remember Mississippi Beef Processors? A handful of Mississippi politicians certainly do.

Before Dickie Scruggs, his son and associates found themselves in federal prosecutors’ crosshairs, the rise and fall of the beef plant that cost Mississippi taxpayers $55 million and 400 jobs was the biggest political scandal in quite some time here.

Anyway, one of the executives of The Facilities Group, a Smyrna, Ga., company that managed the construction of the plant, was turned loose yesterday from his court-ordered supervision by a federal judge in North Mississippi.

Nixon Cawood was one of three Facilities Group executives who received modest prison terms for their roles in orchestrating illegal campaign contributions to former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who they were depending on to save the deal from death once it became clear to agriculture experts that there was no market for cull cattle, or not enough of one to support the plant in Oakland.

Robert Moultrie and Charles Morehead, Cawood’s colleagues, have been released from prison within the past year, according to federal prison records.

Cawood’s appearance before District Judge Michael Mills yesterday was a lot more pleasant than his first encounter with Mills exactly two years ago. Before Mills sentenced Cawood to eight months in prison, Cawood’s attorney asked for leniency for his client, which is what attorneys are supposed to do in those situations. What made Cawood’s plea interesting, though, is that his idea of leniency included serving as a consultant to Mississippi’s community college system. It was his way of performing community service, his attorney said then.

Mills, naturally, almost laughed Cawood and his counsel out of his courtroom. Since then, Cawood has served his time and paid his fines, so the only mark he has left from the whole ordeal is a felony conviction.

Cawood apparently has since gotten a job managing a real estate firm in Georgia. Guess the consulting gig didn’t work out. Reckon why that is?

Nicholas: CottonMill deal to close mid-January

December 20th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a phone conversation with Mark Nicholas, whose Ridgeland-based Nicholas Properties is one of the developers of CottonMill Marketplace, the giant mixed-use project in Starkville.

We played phone tag with Nicholas last week when we were trying to run him down for the CottonMill update we had in this week’s MBJ. We caught him this morning as he was driving to Starkville.

Here’s what Nicholas told us:

He expects to close on the financing on or close to Jan. 15. Construction would begin almost immediately afterward.

“It’s going to happen,” said Nicholas, who’s been working on CottonMill for more than three years. “Nothing about this has been easy. The combination of funding we’ll use — bonds, grants, tax credits, TIF — it takes a while to pull all that together. But there’s not much that can stop it now.”

The two phases of the project will total about $120 million. The first phase will include the renovation of the old E.E. Cooley Building into office space and a conference center, a parking deck and the construction of a hotel and a restaurant. The second phase will include student housing and retail space. Nicholas said he expects construction to last about 18 months.

A log cabin on the southeast part of the site that once housed a Burker King will be disassembled. Nicholas said he sold the cabin to Jackson attorney and real estate developer John Arthur Eaves, who has plans to erect the cabin in Oxford, though it’s unclear what it will be once it arrives.

So that’s where we are. We’ll have more updates about this once it gets closer to the second week of January.

Turkeys and a Golden Egg

November 23rd, 2010 1 comment

Apologies for the neglect over the past 10 days. Jury duty that took longer than we had planned to get excused from and a trip to Laurel to check on the progress of the latest Choctaw casino put quite a kink in our regular blogging schedule.

The Mississippi Business Journal goes to press today, and we’ll take the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving. We have some pretty good stuff planned for the next couple of weeks. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoy putting it together.

Until then, may your table be covered with only the finest holiday fare and may the Rebels lay a whoopin’ on the Bulldogs.

Be safe, be cool and be stuffed. Happy Thanksgiving from Magnolia Marketplace.

Barbour unveils his budget plan

November 15th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour presented his Executive Budget Recommendation this afternoon.

Under Barbour’s outline, most state agencies would receive a cut of 8 percent in fiscal year 2012, compared with funding for the current budget year, which ends June 30.

Education, Medicaid, Corrections and the Mississippi Development Authority are a few of the agencies that were granted level funding. Of course, Barbour’s EBR means little right now. The actual budget-writing process won’t start for another three months or so.

There were no major surprises. State revenue collections have stayed flat, and there’s a whole lot of stimulus money that isn’t available, so cuts were expected. No agency will ultimately be very happy with its funding, but that’s been the case for a couple years now. In sum, the loss of stimulus money and an increase in the state’s share of the Medicaid match will create a shortfall of nearly $700 million.

One thing Magnolia Marketplace did notice about this year’s EBR press conference, though, is it lacked a lot of the bomast of last year’s, when Barbour recommended merging the Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State, and Alcorn and Valley into Jackson State. Each recommendation was met with outrage from supporters of the affected schools.

Barbour did not explicitly make the same recommendations this year, but did note in his budget narrative that he continues to favor consolidation. He also reiterated his desire to cut the number of school districts statewide by a third. With elections next year, it’s not very likely either of those ideas will gain much traction once lawmakers return in January.

The budget — to go with job-creation — has been at or near the top of Barbour’s list of priorities since he took office nearly seven years ago. Election-year politics that he doesn’t have to engage in will drive the bulk of budget decisions, so how Barbour maneuvers within that — and how much he engages compared with years past — will be interesting to watch.

Will Ross be paid during his leave? Nobody seems to know

October 29th, 2010 1 comment

Scott Ross — College Board president, West Point mayor and practicing attorney — is taking a leave of absence from his mayor’s post, according to Columbus TV station WCBI.

Magnolia Marketplace first heard about this yesterday at Hobnob. Since yesterday around noon, multiple voicemails we left on Ross’ cell phone and messages we left at his office have gone unreturned. The messages at his office going unreturned makes sense now that we know about the leave of absence. The cell phone messages being ignored? Baffling.

So with no response from Ross, we called West Point City Hall this morning with the intention of finding out if Ross would continue to draw a check from the City of West Point while  he’s on leave, the details of which and reasons behind have not been explained by anybody.

The first person from City Hall we got on the phone was Rod Bobo, West Point’s Ward 1 selectman.

“I have no idea,” he responded when we asked him if Ross would be paid while he takes leave.

The next person we talked to was a very nice lady from the city clerk’s office. She didn’t know either. She did put us in touch with Orlando Richmond, an attorney who represents the city. Richmond was also very nice.

“I have not explored that issue,” Richmond answered when we asked him the pay question. “There are obviously a number of questions surrounding (Ross taking leave), and that’s one of them.”

Richmond hopes to have the pay issue resolved next week.

“There will be times when the mayor is unavailable,” Richmond said. “His absence for periods of time does not affect the function of city government. Leave for any official is not unusual. Because we don’t have a time frame (for how long Ross’ leave will last), I’m not at all suggesting that there would be any lapse in pay.”

So here’s what we know: Ross is taking a leave of absence from one of his two day jobs.

Here’s what we don’t know: Why is he taking leave? How long will he take it? Will West Point pay him while he takes it? And how is this going to affect his work for the College Board?

Ross needs to answer those questions.

Barbour makes the call: It’s a biofuel company

August 24th, 2010 4 comments

Gov. Haley Barbour has issued the call for Friday’s special session, so let’s get right to it:

Among other things, Barbour will ask lawmakers to issue $45 million in general obligation bonds to a company that will produce renewable crude oil using biomass harvested here in Mississippi.

Biomass is a natural material used to produce energy. It can range from wood chips to grass to animal waste.

Barbour does not name the company or any of its locations — he said last week it would have multiple facilities — in the call, so we’ll just have to wait until Friday to learn those particulars.

To go with the $45 million that will defray some of the construction costs and equipment purchases, lawmakers will be asked to issue an additional $4 million in GOBs that will pay for workforce training related to the project, a program that will be administered by the Mississippi Development Authority. The actual training will be done by Mississippi’s colleges and universities and community colleges.

We’re still not done. Barbour also wants an additional $1 million in GOBs to fund research on biomass usage in the production of renewable crude oil at the Sustainable Energy Research Center at Mississippi State.

All told, that represents a $50 million investment by the state in the $500 million project that is expected to create 1,000 jobs.

Also included in the call is an authorization that will allow the City of D’Iberville to acquire property for development, and an authorization allowing DeSoto County to build a new jail.

It all gets started Friday at 10 a.m.