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Official: Automotive support manufacturers looking at Starkville

February 14th, 2012 No comments

Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority President Jon Maynard said at a meeting of that organization Monday that two manufacturers with ties to the automotive industry have started kicking the tires on possible sites in the Starkville area.

According to a story on the Starkville Daily News‘ website, Maynard declined to name the companies, citing confidentiality agreements. Starkville is almost exactly halfway between Canton and Blue Springs, and would make a good geographical match for a company that wanted to do business with Nissan and Toyota. Four-lane highways connect the three cities, so this will certainly be something to keep an eye on.

Maynard also updated the progress on a few other projects that have been simmering for a while in Starkville, including the mixed-use CottonMill Marketplace. The SDN has it covered here.

Sources: Schloegel, Barksdale among finalists for MDA post (Updated)

January 4th, 2012 No comments

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant will make what a press release called a “major agency appointment” Wednesday afternoon at a 2 p.m. news conference.

I’ve done some calling around since Tuesday, when the release was sent, and here’s what I’ve learned:

Two sources have said the new executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority will be named at the news conference. Each had a different name. One source said former Hancock Bank president and current Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel will succeed interim MDA director Leland Speed.

The other source, who had not heard Schloegel’s name connected to MDA, said Netscape founder and public education philanthropist Jim Barksdale will get the job. “He’s been vetted the past couple weeks,” the source said. “That’s who I’m going with until I hear different.”

For what it’s worth, a woman who answered the phone at Gulfport’s city hall at 10 a.m. said Schloegel was in his office, but was unavailable to take a call. To make it to Jackson for the 2 p.m. news conference, he’d have to leave the Coast by noon or shortly before.

I’ll update this throughout the day, so stay tuned.

UPDATE: Another source has said it’s Barksdale. So if you’re scoring at home, Barksdale leads Schloegel 2-1.

SECOND UPDATE: If you had Barksdale in your office pool, you win. Bryant said Barksdale will serve on an interim basis, and will help in the search for a permanent director. Bryant said the timetable for completing the search would be within 90-120 days, about the length of the legislative session. Barksdale will be paid $1, just as Speed was.

Barksdale will have to go through the confirmation process in the Senate if he still holds the job toward the end of the legislative session, when confirmations are normally done.

Bryant said Barksdale would immediately begin a review of MDA’s structure, to see if there are ways to make the agency more efficient and/or effective. Bryant praised Speed’s work and said the MDA has been great in recruiting industry to Mississippi, but added, “we can’t just say we’ll be like everybody else and be satisfied with that.”

Barksdale said he has filed his financial disclosure information with the Mississippi Ethics Commission, and is unaware of any business holding that would represent a conflict of interest with his new position.

For his part, Speed told the crowd gathered at the Woolfolk State Office Building that when Bryant asked him about bringing Barksdale to the MDA, “it took my breah away. This is a super step for our state.”

With construction underway, Natchez casino encounters more resistance

December 15th, 2011 No comments

The Roth Hill Casino in Natchez is already technically under construction, with piles being driven into the ground.

I’ve covered the ins and outs of this oft-delayed project for over a year now. The last time I spoke with the CEO of Premier Gaming, whose company is managing the project, he seemed pretty confident that the casino had cleared its last hurdle.

A story in today’s Natchez Democrat,though, throws cold water on that notion. The Natchez Preservation Commission laid out several concerns about the overall design in a Wednesday night meeting. The story even quotes former MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown, who has already made known his intentions to run for Natchez Mayor next year.

It doesn’t look good for the casino. Read the entire story here.

Categories: Casinos, Economic development, News Tags:

Kewanee still available should Hyundai want it?

October 2nd, 2011 No comments

If Mississippi is to attract another automaker, it will have to assemble a new megasite.

Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed said in a commercial real estate roundtable Sept. 21 that the state currently does not have a megasite assembled that would meet the size and infrastructure requirements of an automotive manufacturer.

Speed’s assertion came in response to a question about the possibility South Korean automaker Hyundai was looking at Mississippi as a possible destination for a facility to produce its best-selling Sonata sedan.

Hyundai builds the Sonata in Montgomery, Ala., and industry speculation for the past several months has been that the facility cannot meet the sales demand for the car.

Speed himself let slip in an interview earlier in September with a Jackson television station that the state had been in contact Hyundai about the company locating here.

He has declined to address it further. Speed said Sept. 21 that at least three automakers are “rumored” to be exploring Mississippi.

“I can’t comment,” he said when asked if Mississippi had been in contact with any of them.

The East Mississippi Business Development Corp. advertises on its website the Kewanee megasite as being available, with utilities like water and sewer and broadband already installed.

EMBDC executive director Wade Jones said his organization is still marketing Kewanee to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The site, Jones said, meets the size and infrastructure requirements for an automotive manufacturer or a facility that could build engines or transmissions for an automaker. Jones said the two Class I railroads that service the site and the adjoining interstate highway system make the site ideal for either of those. He said the EMBDC has spent $450,000 on engineering the site, to provide utilities and site work to ensure it’s not susceptible to flooding.

Kia, another Korean automaker, eyeballed Kewanee in 2005, and according to Speed, had decided to locate on the site, but the plant eventually went to Montgomery. The company backed out after it determined the labor force in Meridian and the surrounding area was insufficient, Speed said. Specifically, Speed said automotive companies prefer their workforce account for less than 1 percent of the area’s “labor shed.”

“This is so they can be sure of workforce quality. The week of Katrina they showed and we met with them in Montgomery,” he said. “(Kia told us) we need  to move farther west. So we moved twice, once on east side of Forest and one on west side of Forest. We didn’t own that land. We assumed we’d be able to assemble it by paying insane prices and, if need be, use eminent domain. They finally wanted it moved to Pelahatchie. We just couldn’t let them get that close (to Nissan). We were working Toyota at the same time. We figured we weren’t going to get but one or the other. So we went with Toyota. It worked out.”

Jones said two recent studies the EMBDC commissioned show more than 29,000 people who are either currently unemployed or under-employed are available within a 65-mile radius of Kewanee. That combined with the four community colleges in the area, he said, should put to rest any workforce concerns a prospect would have.

“We know we can supply the workforce,” Jones said.

Hyundai senior management told the automotive blog Auto Pacific last summer that it would consider building another U.S. facility when Hyundai and Kia sold more than 900,000 units per year in the U.S.

In 2010, the companies combined to sell just shy of 847,500 units stateside. The Montgomery facility, according to the company, has the ability to produce 400,000 units annually, and is at capacity. Hyundai is already importing its midsize Elantra from Korea to meet its demand, and Kia has added a third shift at its West Point, Ga., facility, which makes crossover sport utility vehicles for Kia and Hyundai.

Auto Pacific hypothesized that since Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia already had plants in Alabama and Georgia, it had likely reached the limit of public assistance in each of those states, which could bolster Mississippi’s case.

What could possibly work against Mississippi are the two automakers – Nissan and Toyota – that already call the state home.

Generally, Speed said, automakers prefer not to be within 90 miles of one another. In the case of Nissan and the Kia facility the state missed out on, both companies had reservations about Kia’s wage scale, which was $10 less per hour than Nissan’s.

“What you’re doing is just begging for a union to come into that site,” Speed said. “That’s a formula for trouble.”

What also puts Mississippi at a disadvantage, Speed said, is the state’s inability to quickly assemble a megasite should the need to do so arise.

Economic development special session set for Friday (Updated)

August 29th, 2011 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour announced this morning that there will be a special session Friday for lawmakers to deal with an incentive package for at least one economic development project, maybe two.

The details of each will not be unveiled until Wednesday.

As is his custom, Barbour released little to no details about the projects. He said it will be Wednesday before we’ll know if lawmakers will deal with an incentive package for one project, or two.

“We’re not sure the other will be ripe by Friday,” Barbour said. If it isn’t, it will be at the top of the list for the regular session that starts in January, he said.

When the Legislature passed that $420 million bond bill toward the end of the last session, there was some money earmarked for future economic development projects, with the intent of having the money in place to avoid a special session. Barbour said Monday morning that neither of these projects was eligible for that. When the bill passed in April, Barbour said he was under the impression that one of the projects was going to Ohio, and the other wasn’t even on the radar.

“Both of these involve large (private) capital expenditures and large job numbers,” Barbour said.

That’s about all we know right now.

UPDATE: This may provide a clue about at least one of the projects, from the Columbus, Miss. Commercial Dispatch: http://www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=12724&sort=d#ixzz1WXRsSp6S

MDA, GreenTech finalizing incentive package

August 9th, 2011 No comments

A Q&A with GreenTech president Terry McAuliffe that appeared over the weekend on the Washington Post‘s website has a lot of the same information that Magnolia Marketplace has reported since January.

The production of the company’s MyCar neighborhood electric vehicle will start in Horn Lake late this year, and the Tunica facility, where GTA hopes to build its midsize sedan and sport electric hybrid cars, is under construction. We’ve known that for a while now.

What stood out, though, is McAullife’s mention of an incentive package the company and the state are putting together. It’s notable because since the groundbreaking ceremony in Tunica nearly two years ago, the Mississippi Development Authority has sat back and waited for GreenTech to raise private capital.

That is no longer the case. MDA spokesperson Melissa Medley said Tuesday afternoon that the economic development agency and GreenTech are indeed applying the final touches to an incentive package, and hoped to have it finalized and a memorandum of understanding signed in the next few weeks. She did not release details, but it’s common sense to think that the numbers won’t be very big. Maybe they will. We’ll just have to wait and see.

To read the full Q&A with McAuliffe, click here.

MDA, MSU will try to revive ‘tired’ stripcenters

July 25th, 2011 No comments

A retail trend that started right after the end of World War II has become a modern problem, and the Mississippi Development Authority is starting the process of finding a solution.

Stripcenters, retail clusters that could feature everything from supermarkets to department stores, were one of the most visible products of the post-war U.S. economic development boom.

Often situated on the outskirts of downtown areas, they replaced the more traditional one-stop shopping areas that had flourished before the proliferation of the automobile.

With small and mid-size communities now diverting their retail opportunities back to the downtown areas, the worm has turned. The downtowns stripcenters stripped vacant 70 years ago are returning the favor. Empty stripcenters often quickly become blighted. The “Tired Stripcenter Program,” a partnership between the MDA and the Carl Small Business Center at Mississippi State’s College of Architecture, Art and Design, is designed to revitalize them.

“We’ve got a great Main Street program here in Mississippi,” MDA interim executive director Leland Speed said. “You go around and you start looking at all these towns, and they’re starting to get their act together with their downtowns. But to get there, you have to leave the highway and drive past a bunch of old closed department stores or Sunflowers or Jitney Jungles or something like that. They’re depressing. They’re just downright ugly. Every dang town is cursed with these things.”

Speed himself was in on the development of a stripcenter in Jackson, in the Fondren area where a hardware store and a whole foods store now sit. “So I’m guilty,” he said.

The biggest problem with stripcenters, Speed said, is their average shelf life is only between 15 and 20 years, meaning the ones built long after the post-war era have outlived their usefulness.

“The retailing universe changes,” he said. “The store isn’t the right size or the chain gets killed by competition, or something. We can’t just sit here and be victims. We have to develop an active response.”

Federal government policy has done its part to contribute to the explosion of stripcenters and the eyesore they become when they’re empty, said John Poros, director of the Carl Small Business Center. Readily available loans from the Federal Housing Administration and the Interstate Highway Act of the mid-1950s made the box-shaped stripcenters concrete gold mines. That all changed when their tax depreciation method was lowered to seven years, down from 40.

“With that, it doesn’t make sense to build something that’s long-lasting and you take care of. It makes sense to build something cheap,” Poros said.

Speed and Poros agree that pumping life back into the outdated stripcenters will require plans of action as varied as the tenants they once housed.

“You have to take an overall approach,” Poros said. “Maybe there are places to redevelop the strip to become a different program. You might get multi-family housing. You might begin to think about using parts of the strip for civic purposes or even parks and other (venues for) recreational activities. People are looking for things like that more and more when they go out to shop. All these lifestyle centers are doing very well because they understand that. Figuring out how to bring that sort of sensibility to the commercial strip is important.”

Connecting the revamped stripcenter’s new tenants to one another – as opposed to their entrances being exclusively around the edges – will have to be a common theme. “That can become a way to revitalize aesthetics, which is so important to the retail environment,” said Poros, who added that no specific communities have been targeted yet for the program.

“There are a lot of different tools, and every different place is different. It’s clear that people in their preferences are going more toward these places where they can find everything in one place, which really goes back to the old town centers where you can go one place and find everything that they need and also have a pleasant experience there. If you can build it into people’s daily lives, that’s a pretty powerful thing.”

Details of a seminar the MDA and the Carl Small Business Center hope to conduct this fall are being finalized.

 “We’re still working on what exactly we’re going to do,” Poros said. “There will certainly be a kickoff meeting about this, but we’re still trying to figure out when and where.”

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

Wang: GreenTech on track for production this year

July 20th, 2011 No comments

In a couple months, it will have been two years since GreenTech Automotive CEO Charles Wang showed up in Tunica and announced his plans to manufacture electric hybrid sedans and sports cars there.

Since then, GreenTech has acquired a company that built the MyCar, a neighborhood electric vehicle, and said it would build that in Horn Lake in the old Dover Elevator building, hopefully by the end of the third quarter.

We recounted all of that in a story in this week’s Mississippi Business Journal. What didn’t make the story is any comment from GreenTech, due to us not having received a response from a company spokesperson before we sent the paper to the press.

Tuesday afternoon, we got a reponse to a list of questions we submitted. Among the questions were if the MyCar production was still scheduled to start this year, if construction had started on the Tunica facility, what sort of timetable GTA had for starting production in Tunica, and for an update on the raising of private capital via the EB-5 Visa investment program. Through the EB-5 program, foreigners can acquire permanent residency status by investing a minimum of $1 million into an economic development project in the U.S., or $500,000 in a project in an economically depresseed area.

Tunica would qualify as an economically depressed area, so we’ve been operating under the assumption that EB-5 money related to its GreenTech facility would have to meet the $500,000 minimum. We’ve been unable to confirm that, though, because GreenTech has been short on details in the rare public comments it makes.

The same was true of its latest offering.

“We are making progresses in accordance with our business plan and we will have our SOP (start of production) this year,” read an emailed statement attributed to Wang. “We have already begun construction in Tunica.”

So it sounds like the MyCar will start rolling off the lines in Horn Lake sometime this year; whether it’s by the end of the third quarter is still unclear. And Tunica? Construction has apparently started on the facility, but when production will start is a secret only GreenTech knows, and it’s not telling.

Watkins: Farish Street NOT “back on the shelf”

June 8th, 2011 1 comment

A story in today’s Clarion-Ledger that said work on the Farish Street development in Jackson had halted has caused quite a stir.

Magnolia Marketplace just got off the phone with David Watkins, who spoke to us on his cell phone while he walked around Farish Street.

Here’s the gist of what he told us: The story, he said, is “totally off the mark. We are absolutely not shut down. We’re out here working every day.”

Watkins added that the B.B. King Blues Club and Itta Bena restaurant, Zac Harmon’s Subway Lounge, Flagrant Sports Lounge and a cigar store would open as scheduled.  

“They’re  all this year,” he said.

So there’s that. We’ll have an expanded story in next week’s MBJ so be on the lookout.

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

Elevance heads to Natchez, brings 165 new jobs

June 7th, 2011 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour has just announced in Natchez that Illinois-based Elevance Renewable Sciences has purchased the old Delta BioFuels facility. The company will revamp and expand the 800,00 square-foot building so it can make its specialty chemicals for use in personal care products, detergents, plastics, lubricants and a few other things.

Magnolia Marketplace first reported Friday night that there would be a “major” economic development announcement in Natchez today. For Natchez, 165 new jobs over a five-year, multi-phased rollout would qualify as major. The Natchez and Adams County area has spent the past decade watching its major industries leave town, with probably the most crushing blow coming in 2001 when the International Paper mill shut down.

Here’s the full release from Barbour’s office:

NATCHEZ – Gov. Haley Barbour and executives from Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc., creator of high-performance renewable specialty chemicals for use in personal care products, detergents, plastics and lubricants, announced today the company has acquired the Delta BioFuels facility in Adams County. The company intends to convert the facility to a biorefinery and derivatives operation in a multi-phase project that will involve an investment of more than $225 million and will create 165 full-time jobs over the next five years, in addition to 300 construction jobs.
 
“Elevance’s decision to locate here in Mississippi results in a significant investment in the area and its economy, as well as in the local workforce,” Gov. Barbour said. “Job creation and retention is vital to a healthy economy, and I thank the company for creating these new jobs for southwest Mississippi’s residents. I am delighted to welcome Elevance to Natchez and Adams County.”
 
Elevance plans to expand the existing 800,000-square-foot refinery, which is located in Natchez, in multiple phases over the next five years. The result will be a world-scale biorefinery and derivatives operation.
 
“We are pleased to be coming to southwest Mississippi to build our first North American manufacturing facility. We plan on deploying Elevance’s innovative technology here to bring competitive manufacturing and high-value jobs back to the United States,” said K’Lynne Johnson, chief executive officer of Elevance. “These operations will complement our joint venture with Wilmar International in Asia and expand our global footprint. By building biorefineries in multiple geographies, we are responding to our customers’ demands for innovative environmentally friendly products in a cost-effective and scalable way.”
 
The Mississippi Development Authority worked with company and local officials to help facilitate the project. Through the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund, MDA provided assistance for upgrades at the Natchez/Adams County Port, as well as a $25 million loan to the company. Additionally, the county provided assistance for upgrades to the port to support this project.
 
“Today marks a milestone for Natchez and Adams County, and I couldn’t be more pleased that Elevance has chosen to locate its newest operations here,” said MDA Executive Director Leland Speed. “This announcement reinforces the fact that Mississippi has a business climate in place to meet the needs of any company. I thank Elevance for its investment in Natchez, Adams County and the entire state of Mississippi, as well as for its confidence in and commitment to Mississippi’s workers.”
 
Headquartered in Bolingbrook, Ill., Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc. creates valued specialty chemicals from natural oils. Using a Nobel Prize-winning technology called olefin metathesis, the company creates high performance ingredients for use in personal care products, detergents, fuels, lubricants and other specialty chemicals markets. To learn more about Elevance, please visit the company’s website at
www.elevance.com.