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Nissan breaks ground on supplier park

July 30th, 2013 No comments

Nissan announced Tuesday that it will build a supplier park in Canton.

The park is expected to create a total of 800 jobs – 400 each at the park and at the existing manufacturing facility.

The supplier park will be the first of its kind for Nissan in North America.

Construction of a more than 1 million square-foot integrated logistics center off Nissan Parkway and infrastructure improvements to an existing supplier logistics center at the Canton plant will accommodate future supplier operations.

“Today, we begin an exciting new chapter in Mississippi as we continue our localization and investment efforts in the United States,” Nissan Vice President for Total Delivered Cost Dan Bednarzyk said in a company press release. “Today’s groundbreaking supports our efforts to bring more Nissan cars and trucks to our plant in Mississippi, and means more Mississippi jobs. Additionally, the supplier park will help make us more globally competitive in our Canton, Miss., plant.”

Lawmakers approved in the session that ended in April a $100 million bond package for the park. The Madison County Economic Development Authority will issue the bonds; debt service will be paid by lease revenue generated by the park’s tenants.

The Mississippi Development Authority provided assistance in support of the integrated logistics center for site preparation and infrastructure. To assist with the renovation of the supplier logistics center, MDA provided assistance for building upgrades, modifications and worker training.

“In the 10 years since it began operations, Nissan has become the cornerstone for Mississippi’s automotive industry and has created a model for manufacturing in our state today,” said MDA executive director Brent Christensen. “It is a big part of our mission to assist great companies such as Nissan as they grow and create job opportunities for Mississippi’s residents, and we thank our partners in Madison County who worked with us to help make this project possible.”

Nissan employs more than 5,600 people at the Canton plant. The company first announced plans to construct the manufacturing plant in 2000, and started began production in 2003. The facility has built more than 2.3 million vehicles, with current production of the award-winning Altima, Sentra compact sedan, Armada full-size SUV, Xterra mid-size SUV, Titan and Frontier pickup trucks and NV full-size commercial cargo and passenger vans.

Nissan’s crossover model, the Murano, will become the ninth vehicle produced at the Canton plant beginning in 2014.

DuPont signs new lease at state port

July 11th, 2013 1 comment

DuPont has signed a 30-year lease at the Mississippi State Port of Gulfport that could keep the company there a total of 60 years.

The Mississippi State Port Authority announced the move Thursday. The 30-year lease has three, 10-year renewal options.

Under the agreement, DuPont will relocate its current ore receiving and storage operation to the southern end of the west pier.

Port director Jonathan Daniels said in a press release the pact requires DuPont to increase its annual tonnage a minimum of 29 percent.

“This expansion will certainly support our restoration efforts and job growth at the Port of Gulfport and DuPont’s DeLisle facility.

The new ore receiving and storage unit, whose construction is scheduled to start next year, will serve DuPont’s facility in DeLisle, which has been in operation since 1979. The facility produces titanium dioxide used in paints, inks, paper, textile fibers and plastics.

The Port Commission will contribute between $23 million and $80 million in construction costs.

“The DuPont expansion and long term lease at the Port of Gulfport shows the company’s confidence in the long term potential of the port,” said Mississippi Development Authority executive director Brent Christensen. “As we continue to invest in the port, we expect to see more companies take DuPont’s lead and expand or locate their operations at the facility, creating more job opportunities for Mississippi workers.”

Pickering: Nissan has met obligations to state

May 28th, 2013 No comments

State auditor Stacey Pickering disputed Tuesday a union-funded study that said Nissan had not met its obligations to Mississippi.

Washington, D.C.-based Good Jobs First recently released the results of a study, paid for by the United Auto Workers, that said Nissan had violated the terms attached to its state incentives by denying workers the right to decide to unionize and by hiring large numbers of temporary workers. The study also claimed that Nissan’s incentives surpassed $1.3 billion, more than three times the reported figure when the plant opened in2003. Nissan and the Mississippi Development Authority disputed the study’s findings.

Pickering, in a column published Sunday in the Clarion-Ledger, said the state auditor’s office has verified Nissan’s job-count figures since the Canton plant opened, and found that they met and in most cases exceeded the threshold attached to the incentives.

“According to the law and the Memorandum of Understandings between Nissan and the state of Mississippi, Nissan was required to maintain 3,000 new direct jobs at the project site until 2021,” Pickering wrote. “As of our last audit in December, 2011, Nissan employed over 4,100 employees, far exceeding the mandated requirements.”

Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a group of clergy and elected officials, has led the efforts to unionize Canton workers. The organization claims Nissan has threatened to fire workers for doing so, which would violate federal labor laws. Nissan has repeatedly denied the accusations.

The Nissan facility was created under the Mississippi Major Economic Impact Act, the statute that allows oversight from the state auditor’s office. Pickering unsuccessfully pushed for legislation the last session that would have extended auditor oversight to all state-assisted economic development initiatives.

The legislation failed. Pickering told the Mississippi Business Journal in April he plans to push the legislation again in 2014.

State’s exports set record in 2012

March 18th, 2013 No comments

Mississippi exported a record total of $11.8 billion in goods in 2012, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Association.

That represents a $1.8 billion increase over 2011. The U.S.’s overall export value set a record in 2012, at $2.2 trillion. Mississippi’s bordering states, with the exception of Arkansas, all exported a higher value in 2012.

Mississippi’s largest export market in 2012 was Panama, which bought $2.1 billion in goods from the state. Canada was second, with $1.9 billion; China (($864 million) came in third.

Petroleum and coal products accounted for $4 billion of the state’s exports. Other common exports include chemicals, computers and other electronic devices, transportation equipment and paper.

“The Mississippi Development Authority stands ready to assist Mississippi businesses with their exporting needs, and I encourage companies considering exporting for the first time or expanding their current trade efforts to contact MDA’s international trade specialists to learn how we can assist them,” MDA executive director Brent Christensen said in a news release.

Christensen said The Mississippi STEP Program, administered by MDA’s Trade Bureau and funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, is designed to reduce some of the financial obstacles small businesses face when entering the export market.

The program reimburses eligible small businesses up to 50 percent of travel costs, including airfare and lodging and provides translation services at no cost. Other services could include scheduled pre-arranged appointments with prospective qualified buyers, local transportation assistance and a customized trip itinerary.

The MDA has two upcoming trade missions planned. One is May 9-17 to Asia, with stops in Korea, the Phillipines, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. Another to Germany and Poland is planned for May 20-24.

Small business owners interested in either may be eligible for assistance from the STEP program.

Latest deadline has mixed results for business legislation

March 14th, 2013 No comments

Wednesday’s deadline for floor action on bills that originated in the opposite chamber brought mixed results for legislation aimed at the state’s business community.

Of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s legislative agenda, only a bill that would provide a 25 percent rebate to businesses that contract with one of the state’s colleges or universities for qualified research remains alive. The Strengthening Mississippi Academic Research Through (SMART) Business Act would cap rebates at $1 million per business and $5 million per fiscal year. It died in the 2012 session. It has been sent to conference.

Other bills Hosemann supported – tax credits for businesses relocating their headquarters to Mississippi, expanding existing headquarters  and an employee pass-through tax credit – all died for the second consecutive session.

Already signed by Gov. Phil Bryant into law is legislation that that will provide $8 million in additional money to the Workforce Enhancement Training Fund. The WET fund is used by community colleges to provide training for jobs and skills that employers have identified as being in demand.

The money will be generated by a one-year decrease in the unemployment tax businesses pay and a corresponding increase in the WET fund tax. The net effect on employers who pay each tax will be neutral. Also contributing to the additional job training money is $14 million in fraudulently obtained unemployment benefits the Mississippi Department of Employment Security has gotten back.

Bryant signed the bill Wednesday. The measure was supported by the Mississippi chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Legislation directed at the Mississippi Development Authority had mixed results. A bill requiring the agency to issue an annual report of the tax breaks and other incentives it provides to businesses died. Executive director Brent Christensen has said that’s something the agency plans to do anyway, starting with the one issued late last year. Also dead is a bill that would have authorized the MDA to periodically hire consultants to assess the incentives it issues.

Still alive is a measure that would divert money from an MDA fund established to lure Toyota to a workforce training grant fund.

The next hurdle still-active bills face is a conference report deadline on April 4.

Reeves: Bond bill has to meet long-term needs, and MDA fund limit needs lowering

January 7th, 2013 No comments

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves will support a bond bill that addresses long-term capital needs, charter schools should be allowed to locate wherever parents want them, and the Mississippi Development Authority needs more legislative supervision over how it spends money out of its revolving loan fund.

Reeves touched on those topics and a few others Monday during the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon in Jackson.

The Republican has taken criticism, including from some in his party, since the last legislation session ended without the passage of a bond bill, the first time that’s happened in as long as a lot of legislative veterans can remember.

The first-term lieutenant governor repeated Monday what he’s said for a couple months: He can get behind a bond package “reasonable and rational in size” that pays for long-term capital needs instead of things that should be funded through the normal appropriations process. He listed local system bridge programs, and repairs and HVAC systems for state buildings as things that have historically been bonded, and that are a big reason why the state pays $430 million annually in debt service.

“If it does not meet those criteria, I cannot support” a bond bill, Reeves said.

Reeves also reiterated his support for charter schools in every district where enough parents want to form one. Who can trigger the charter law was a sticking point in last year’s session, with splits forming among those who held views similar to Reeves’, and those who wanted charter schools only in districts rated as unsuccessful or failing.

There will be another bill this session aimed at lowering the ceiling for which the MDA can spend out of its revolving loan fund without legislative approval. Currently, the MDA can spend up to $468 million before having to ask lawmakers’ permission. The fund is used to help economic development prospects with costs related to coming to Mississippi.

Last year, a bill passed the Senate that would have lowered the limit from $468 million to $50 million. It died in the House Ways and Means Committee when chairman Rep. Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, did not bring it up for a vote.

“I do not believe the Mississippi Development Authority ought to have $468 million to spend on whatever project they want to spend it on,” Reeve said.

Reeves affirmed his opposition to the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and said there would be no “serious, significant discussion” about it until the federal government clarifies certain rules. Particularly, Reeves said, states who opt out of the Medicaid expansion need to know if disproportionate share payments – made to hospitals that write off the cost of large amounts of treatment to indigent patients – will remain or be eliminated.

The 2013 session gavels to a start Tuesday at noon.

Barbour: Vetting process for Twin Creeks was sound

December 14th, 2012 1 comment

Former Gov. Haley Barbour says the vetting process for Twin Creeks revealed a company that had an advantage over its competitors because it used 4 percent as much silicon to make its solar panels.

That wasn’t enough to keep the company from going under, and owing the state just more than $27 million in aid used to build an 80,000 square-foot facility in Senatobia and to purchase equipment to put in it. China’s decision to flood the U.S. solar panel market with products even cheaper than Twin Creeks’ was what did the company in, Barbour said, echoing what Mississippi Development Authority officials have said recently.

“We thought it was a company that could compete very successfully,” Barbour said in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal. “They had an agreement to sell quite a large number of solar panels in India. Indian officials even came to the groundbreaking. Those expected contracts fell through when the Chinese ran the price down so much. So while Twin Creeks could beat everybody’s price over here, the Chinese didn’t care what the price was. The Chinese were interested in employment. They’ll sell the solar panels for whatever they get. They don’t care about profit.”

To go with its contracts in India, Barbour said Twin Creeks had more than $100 million in private investment committed, something he called “a key indicator” as to whether the company was legitimate.

Barbour said the state has had success with start-ups before, pointing to steelmaker SeverCorr (now Severstal) in Columbus.

“We spent about $35 million on their facility in Columbus – site prep, drainage, and the like,” Barbour said. “Then we gave them a $60 million loan guarantee, which they have paid off. We’re in that deal about $35 million and they’re in it several hundred million dollars.”

Barbour did not praise or criticize current Gov. Phil Bryant’s recent assertion that the state would be more interested in investing in established companies with a track record of success, rather than start-ups like Twin Creeks.

“For us, when we looked at something that was a start-up, it always came back to how much private investors were putting in. It’s up to (the Bryant administration) to set the policies, to fine-tune them how they think is best. Nobody’s crystal ball is perfect.”

MDA boss: Incentives here to stay

December 12th, 2012 No comments

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.

MDA CFO: Safety net working in case of Twin Creeks

November 30th, 2012 No comments

The Mississippi Development Authority’s chief financial officer said Friday afternoon that while every economic development project that receives state aid carries some risk, the system of “clawbacks” is working in the case of Twin Creeks Technologies.

Twin Creeks, the California-based solar panel manufacturer, received a $26 million loan from the state to open an 80,000 square-foot facility in Senatobia, but the company never got off the ground and was bought earlier this month by GT Advanced Technologies. GT does not plan to honor Twin Creeks’ agreement with the state.

The state loaned Twin Creeks $15 million to build the facility, and another $8 million to purchase equipment. The state now owns the building and its contents. Another $3 million in public money was used for site prep and for infrastructure upgrades.

“This shows that the clawbacks are working,” MDA CFO Kathy Ghelston told the Mississippi Business Journal in a phone interview. “We have the building, we have the equipment. We will get a settlement hopefully. I think that worst-case scenario, everything we’ve paid for, we have. Best-case scenario the state is made completely whole.”

The state sued Twin Creeks in Tate County Chancery Court in early November. Ghelston said she was optimistic the parties could reach a settlement that would allow the state to recoup its investment.

Ghelston said the first sign of trouble came Oct. 17, when Twin Creeks officials told MDA brass in a meeting that it was not going to be able to make the first loan payment to the state, which was due in December.

“At that point, we knew that the project was in real danger,” Ghelston said.

Gov. Haley Barbour convinced lawmakers late in the 2010 legislative session to pass a $50 million loan package that did not specify Twin Creeks by name, but spelled out the  investment ($132 million) and job-creation benchmarks (500 over five  years) that Twin Creeks claimed it would reach when the company announced in June 2010 that it was building a facility in Senatobia.

Ghelston said Twin Creeks had the technology to produce solar panels cheaper than their competitors in 2010. The problem, she said, arose when China flooded the U.S. market with solar panels that were cheaper.

“I don’t know if there is anything we could have done to prevent what happened from a market standpoint,” Ghelston said.

The MDA plans to market the building for a new prospect to sell or lease. Ghelston said the facility would be ideal for suppliers connected to the aerospace or automotive industry. She took exception to a Memphis-area commercial Realtor’s assertion to the Associated Press that the building is worth far less than the $15 million it cost to construct.

“I question how they would know that considering they’d never been in the building,” Ghelston said. “It’s not a warehouse. It’s a very technologically advanced building. It’s not a shell and that’s not the way it will be marketed. We believe there are real opportunities for that building.”

 

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.