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“Major” economic development announcement in Natchez Tuesday

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

A source who spoke to Magnolia Marketplace Friday evening on the condition of anonymity said Gov. Haley Barbour will be in Natchez on Tuesday for a “major” economic development announcement at 1 p.m.

The source did not provide dollar figures or job numbers. But according to the Natchez Democrat newspaper, the Adams County Board of Supervisors met with Natchez, Inc. executive director Chandler Russ, Adams County Port director Anthony Hauer and port attorney William McGehee Jr. recently in executive session to discuss an economic development prospect. McGehee told the Natchez Democrat in an article published June 1 that supervisors hoped to make an announcement soon.

“It’s going to be big,” the source said Friday night.

Natchez and Adams County, like other spots along the Mississippi River, have dealt with record flooding the past month. It was unclear Friday night if the new industry had anything to do with the port or operations along the Mississippi River. If the port’s director and its attorney had recently met with supervisors to discuss new industry, there’s a decent chance that it does.

If we get anything new over the weekend, we’ll post it.

Categories: 2011 flood, Economic development, News Tags:

Speed sues Hosemann to keep eminent domain off ballot (Updated)

June 3rd, 2011 No comments

Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed has sued Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, in an attempt to keep the eminent domain petition off November’s ballot.

If you’ll recall, the petition seeks to prevent the taking of private land for private development. It keeps in place the state’s authority to seize private land for public-use projects, like streets or bridges.

Nearly 120,000 people signed petitions to get the issue on the ballot. Hosemann certified the results last year.

The Mississippi Development Authority and Gov. Haley Barbour were adamantly against the notion of eliminating the state’s authority to use eminent domain for private economic development. Barbour and Gray Swoope, Speed’s successor at MDA, warned that projects like Toyota wouldn’t be in Mississippi if the law were changed.

Following a failure to change the law in the Legislature, a petition drive led by the Mississipi Farm Bureau Federation commenced, and the issue was set for the November ballot, until Thursday afternoon.

A hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 25 in Hinds County Circuit Court.

Pamela Weaver, spokesperson for Hosemann, just told Magnolia Marketplace that he would not comment beyond a statement, in which he said he intended to follow state law and place the initiative on the ballot, unless otherwise ordered by the Mississippi Supreme Court.

We’ve left a message on the cell phone of an MDA spokesperson, which wasn’t immediately returned.

For what it’s worth, Magnolia Marketplace several months ago polled the major contenders in the governor’s race — Phil Bryant, Dave Dennis, Bill Luckett, Johnny Dupree and Hudson Holliday — and they were of one mind: Eminent domain should be employed only for projects of direct public use, and that doesn’t include private economic development. Bryant, Dennis and Holliday each signed the petition to get the initiative on the ballot.

If and when we hear something from the MDA, we’ll post it. Rest assured, though: This is going to be a fight.

UPDATE: MDA spokesperson Melissa Medley just returned our call. She said that agency would have no comment on Speed’s lawsuit since he filed it as an individual, and not in his official capacity as interim executive director of the MDA.

We just got off the phone with Speed’s assistant, who said he was out of town and wouldn’t return until Monday around lunchtime. We’ll try to catch up with him then.

Vicksburg, and its waterfront, brace for the worst

May 9th, 2011 1 comment

If you’ve read this week’s edition of the Mississippi Business Journal, hopefully you’ve seen the story we did on how Vicksburg’s business community is handling the threat, tangible and otherwise, the flood is presenting.

Other than the companies that make their living off the Mississippi River, the majority of Vicksburg’s businesses will remain untouched by the water, thanks to the city’s bluff.

One retail outlet that is in immediate danger is Discount Furniture Barn, which sits on Jackson Street right next to the River, and whose owner, Mary Landers, was quoted at length in our story. Magnolia Marketplace and a photographer visited Landers at her shop last Wednesday afternoon. The water was maybe 60 yards from her front door step. Judging by a photo we saw Monday morning on the Vicksburg Post’s website, it seems to have arrived at her building, or at least gotten really close. We called the number listed for Discount Furniture; it rang unanswered.

Up the bluff, the Washington Street business corridor hopes tourists aren’t too freaked out by media coverage and stay away, mistakenly thinking all of Vicksburg is submerged. It’s not. The waterfront, where the casinos are, is, or will be shortly. The Military Park is high and dry, as are every department store and restaurant.

They’ll stay that way, too. To repeat: Vicksburg is not underwater. Unless you had a tugboat cruise lined up, you shouldn’t change your travel plans. The Mississippi Coast suffered through all last summer with the national media’s screams of oil-drenched beaches, when that simply wasn’t the case.

Here’s hoping Vicksburg and its sister River cities don’t go through the same thing this summer.

Toyota reveals production schedule; Blue Springs still on track for fall opening

April 25th, 2011 No comments

Lost in the Easter weekend shuffle was a pretty interesting nugget from Toyota about its production schedule in Japan and North America in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami.

Very early Friday morning — specifically, 1 a.m. Mississippi time — the company made known its plans to deal with the production issues it has experienced the past two months or so.

Here’s the gist, according to a Toyota press release: New vehicle production will begin to get back to pre-disaster levels as early as July in Japan, and in August in North America. By November and December, production should be back to normal here and overseas.

Obviously, you need to apply the best-laid-plans theory to that. There are a million different things that could happen between now and then that could throw the whole situation into another round of chaos.

From the beginning, stateside Toyota officials have maintained that Blue Springs, scheduled to begin making Corollas this fall, would not be affected by what’s happened in Japan. About 20 percent of the parts Blue Springs workers will use to make the Corolla come from Japan.

The latest production schedule does not change that, according to a Blue Springs spokesperson.

The current situation is having no impact on Toyota Mississippi’s construction progress or the planned start of production this fall,” Emily Holland wrote in an email Monday morning. “We are on schedule and looking forward to rolling a car off the line in a few months.”

Again, apply the best-laid-plans theory. In the three years Magnolia Marketplace has covered Toyota, it’s been our experience that the company keeps a stiff upper lip in situations like this, right up to the announcement to the contrary (the original delay of the plant’s opening springs to mind as a good example). We’re not saying that will happen here. In fact, everything points toward it not happening.

Just something we’ll be keeping an eye on over the summer.

Additions coming to Nissan’s Canton plant (Updated)

April 20th, 2011 2 comments

There was some Canton-related news at Wednesday’s New York International Auto Show.

To make room for a new Infiniti luxury crossover and the electric LEAF sedan at its Smyrna, Tenn, plant, Nissan will shift production of the Xterra SUV and Frontier pickup models to Canton.

The production shifts are part of Nissan’s overall build-up of its North American manufacturing capacity. Currently, 69 percent of Nissan vehicles are made domestically. By 2015, that will increase to 85 percent. A press release Nissan issued Wednesday morning said production of the LEAF would begin in Smyrna by the end of 2012, so it follows that Canton would start to make the Xterra and Frontier around then.

The Xterra and the Frontier are the second and third additions to Canton’s portfolio in the past year. Last year, Canton started making the NV Commercial Van, which was the company’s first North American foray into the light commercial vehicle market.

“With today’s announcements, we remain on track to localize our manufacturing base around the world – especially in the Americas,” Nissan Americas chairman Carlos Tavares said in the press release. “This drive for balance and flexibility across our operations is essential to support our growth plans in the region.”

 

UPDATE: Gov. Haley Barbour and MDA executive director Leland Speed have just released a statement on the Nissan news. The pertinent language:

 

“I am thrilled Nissan officials are adding two models to the production line-up at their Canton facility as a result of their plans to increase production in North America,” Barbour said. “This decision is a testament to high quality work performed by the employees in Canton. I congratulate them.”
 
The Mississippi Development Authority worked closely with the company to help facilitate the project. The agency provided assistance through the Momentum Mississippi Incentives and Job Protection Grant programs, as well as assistance for training and infrastructure improvements.
 
“Nissan has been a valued member of Mississippi’s corporate community for more than a decade, and the company’s continued investment in its Canton plant speaks volumes of Nissan’s confidence in its skilled Mississippi workforce,” said Speed. “I am proud of the strong partnership we have forged with Nissan over the years and am pleased we were able to provide assistance for this project.”

 

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.

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.

Plenty of funding, but lots of competition, for East Miss. rail link

February 21st, 2011 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has a story in this week’s MBJ about a push by East Mississippi economic development officials to secure funding for environmental and design work related to building a 50-mile rail link from Waynesboro to Lucedale.

The link, folks from the Rail Authority of East Mississippi say, would provide rail transportation for the region’s biomass to the Port of Pascagoula, making it cheaper and easier to get the product to Europe, which has a huge demand for it.

Anyway, Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker had inserted $1 million into a highway funding bill that would have paid about half the cost of the planning work. It was an earmark, and it has since been excluded, along with the rest of the surface transportation funding pool from which it was drawn, from the continuing resolution that will fund the federal government through March 4.

The response from Cochran’s office was a few hours late to make it into the print edition, but here’s what he said in a press release he sent us Thursday night:

“Until the Congress completes its work on the FY2011 appropriations process, there will be uncertainty as to what federal transportation and rail programs might be used for the East Mississippi Rail Corridor proposal.  It is probably safe to surmise that the funding will be reduced and that the competition for those dollars will be intense.  I continue to support the effort by local officials who are trying to improve their economic prospects with better rail infrastructure service in southeast Mississippi.”

The long-term CR for FY 2011 that is currently being debated includes $15 million for the Federal Railroad Administration’s Rail Line Relocation and Improvement Program. That could be one funding source for the project. When that CR is approved, and if that railroad money is still there in the final version, is anybody’s guess, though.

Applications for the $1.5 billion TIGER program that was a part of 2009’s stimulus bill is another option, but competition for that money is robust, to say the least.

Bottom line: Plenty of money is available for the East Mississippi rail project. But securing it is not going to be easy, and is going to require quite a bit of political muscle from Cochran and the rest of Mississippi’s congressional delegation.

 

 

Categories: Economic development, News, Politics Tags: