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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.

“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.

State Port reopens after collision in shipping channel

May 23rd, 2011 No comments

There’s a story we wrote for this week’s Mississippi Business Journal that takes a look at the possibility the State Port of Gulfport could see some increased ship traffic due to flooding issues at the Port of New Orleans.

Mississippi’s port was shut down entirely late last week for something that had nothing to do with flooding or New Orleans, after a 660-foot container vessel collided with a 163-foot pogy boat owned by Texas-based Omega Protein. The pogy boat sank. Three of the 16 crew drowned; their bodies were recovered over the weekend.

Here’s where the port comes in: The two vessels were in the Gulf Shipping Channel when they collided, so instead of continuing toward Texas, it circled back to the port’s harbor as authorities sorted out exactly what happened. While dive crews searched for the crew members, the U.S. Coast Guard shut down all inbound and outbound traffic at the port.

Don Allee, executive director of the Mississippi State Port Authority, told Magnolia Marketplace Monday morning that the Coast Guard decided early Sunday morning to reopen the port with restrictions. The main restriction, Allee said, limited ship traffic to daylight hours only.

The restriction will most likely remain in place until the sunken pogy boat is either recovered or moved out of the GSC.

“It’s probably safe to say that once the vessel is removed, normal operations will continue,” Allee said, estimating that would happen within the week, though the exact timetable is strictly up to the Coast Guard. He added that the port does have lighted buoys that could line the GSC “under perfect conditions” that would allow nighttime shipping.

Two vessels were scheduled to arrive Monday at the port, and they  had already been given the all-clear from the Coast Guard, Allee said. The Eurus London, the container ship involved in the collision, left Gulfport Sunday morning with its load of bananas headed for Texas.

“The sunken boat doesn’t prevent much from happening,” Allee said.

Categories: 2011 flood, News, State Port of Gulfport Tags:

Flood economic impact numbers are trickling in

May 16th, 2011 No comments

Two professors released Thursday afternoon a preliminary report that begins to try to gauge the economic impact of the Mississippi River flood.

The report by Dr. Michael Hicks, director of Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, and Dr. Mark Burton, director of transportation economics at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Transportation Research, estimates the total financial impact for the Greater Memphis area to be $753 million.

That takes into account damage to commercial structures, commercial equipment, residential structures, residential contents and an “other damages” category that covers crop losses, public infrastructure and utility repair costs, emergency response costs and telecommunications repair costs. The figures are based on flood damage models developed for waterways in Mississippi and Tennessee over the last decade, and have been used in assessing damage from Hurricane Katrina, the River flood of 2008 and the Pakistani floods of 2010. Hicks and Burton point out that the estimates represent whole hog losses, not just those from insured areas, and that insurance companies will likely have a different impact number once they start their damage assessments.

Specifically, the Memphis figures were derived using historical data from the upper Mississippi River flood of 1993, which did to the Midwest what the River is currently doing to Mississippi and will eventually do to Louisiana.

Magnolia Marketplace emailed Hicks and Burton to see if they planned to look specifically at anywhere in Mississippi.

“We might, but the actual extent of the flood location is a bit fluid (if you’ll pardon the pun),” Hicks wrote in an email Monday morning.

Hicks went on to estimate that up and down the Mississippi — from Minnesota to New Orleans — damage costs would reach between $7 billion and $9 billion.

“This will mostly be clustered in residential structures and contents and business structures and equipment,” Hicks wrote. ”I think the public infrastructure element will be less than in other comparable circumstances (with the exception of those areas very proximal to opened floodgates, where the speed of water flow will severely damage roadways).”

Categories: 2011 flood, News Tags:

Does the future of small Delta towns ride on the levees?

May 13th, 2011 3 comments

In next week’s print edition of the Mississippi Business Journal, we’ll recount our trip to the South Delta, where we talked with a couple business owners who are doing everything they can to protect their livelihood from backwater flooding. Don’t miss it.

During our conversation with Clark Secoy, who owns a package store and a B&B in Rolling Fork, he brought up something that, frankly, is chilling: If the backwater levees are breached, and water rushes into tiny towns like Rolling Fork and stays there any length of time, will those towns ever rebound?

“Everybody’s gathering up their parents, aunts, uncles and carrying them to Jackson or wherever,” Secoy said between customers at City Package Store, which his family has owned since the 1960s. “How many of those folks are coming back? I’m sure their relatives are telling them ,’Naw, just stay here with us. You don’t need to go back there.’ And it’s not just happening here. It’s everywhere.”

Secoy makes a fair point. The Delta — especially the small communities like Rolling Fork — has steadily lost population the past few decades. That’s no secret. For the most part, young people leave and don’t return, exceptions being those who take over family farms, and even those numbers aren’t what they used to be.

And that’s why towns like Rolling Fork need people like Secoy. He remains because his whole life is there – his home and his two businesses. The 90 minutes or so we spent in City Package bear that out. He knows everybody — and we mean, everybody. Maybe two dozen people came in the store, to buy booze, cash a check, get change for a $20 bill, whatever. One fellow, nicknamed “Possum,” was there just to visit, something that seemed to happen pretty regularly. Secoy knew them all, knew their family, and knew what was going on with each.

One gentleman asked Secoy if his home in Cary was in danger of flooding, and how long he had to get his belongings to higher ground. Another, it appeared, came by with the intention of borrowing money, but left without asking, the presence of two visitors apparently delaying him a bit.

Watching Secoy and his customers interact with each other was fascinating. You just don’t see things like that in Jackson.

Secoy is worried if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, and the silent and relentless monster the levees have held back is turned loose, all of that will disappear.

“The store’s won’t have enough water, if the levees do break, to bring it down,” he said. “The store physically will still be here, and so will the 4 Pillars (his bed and breakfast that sits right across Delta Street). But it won’t be here, you know what I mean? God forbid if it does flood, this town will be dead. We’ll still have the county seat here, but we have 2,000 people in town . If it floods, say, 75 percent of the homes, how many will have flood insurance, number 1? And how many are going to rebuild here even if they do?”

It should be noted that the Army Corps of Engineers has said that, even though the water will top them by about a foot, the backwater levees should hold.

They better. There’s a lot riding on it.

Categories: 2011 flood, News Tags:

Clinton natives, businessmen on ABC’s ‘Expedition Impossible!’

May 10th, 2011 No comments

In December 2009, Nicholas Coughlin thought he had lost his best chance at appearing in a reality television show.

Coughlin, a Clinton native and resident who owns showmygame.com and develops social media application software for bugsgoviral.com, had made it all the way to the final group of 20 — 10 men, 10 women — vying to compete on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice.” He was one of the last cut. Before his flight left LAX in Los Angeles, he peered out the plane’s window to see Trump’s private jet sitting on the tarmac.

“So I pretty much left there wanting to jump out of the airplane,” Coughlin, 28, said of his disappointment at the time.

Fast foward to last December, and Coughlin gets a phone call from Mark Burnett, who is to reality TV what Bear Bryant was to Alabama football. Burnett tells Coughlin he remembered him from the Trump auditions, and wanted to see if he’d be willing to try out for “Expedition Impossible!,” a mixture of “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race” that will air on ABC starting June 21.

Long story short, Coughlin and two of his buddies — fellow Clinton natives Chad Robinson, 27, a Realtor; and Jason Cronin, 37, who owns several businesses in Pensacola Beach — were selected as one of 13 teams to compete on “EI!.”

The show filmed in March and April in the Kingdom of Morocco, in Africa. We asked Coughlin what it was like.

“Hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said, describing the physical toll exacted by the tasks he and his team had to do, many of which included traversing the Sahara Desert and the mountains of the Moroccan terrain.

Coughlin couldn’t be too specific about what he and his team — who named themselves The Country Boys for the show — did while filming, since it won’t hit the airwaves until June 21.

“But it was the most exhilerating, exciting, gut-wrenching thing I’ve ever done. It was terrible,” Coughlin said. “But I would do it again tomorrow.”

Categories: News Tags:

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.