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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.”

 

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.”

Burton: No political favoritism behind budget bill language

April 4th, 2011 1 comment

Monday morning, Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, got a text message from Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, in which Newton asked Moak to allow the conference report for House Bill 1095 to clear the House, which would have sent it to Gov. Haley Barbour’s desk to await his signature. The text, Moak said, seemed odd because Moak had done no work on the bill. He wasn’t the committee chair that sent it to the floor, and he wasn’t one of the conferees appointed to hash it out.

HB 1095 is a bill that revises actual revenue numbers for fiscal year 2011 for several state agencies, including the Department of Public Safety and the Division of Medicaid. Language inserted either late last week or over the weekend, however, spells out the job description and educational requirements of the deputy director of administration of the Division of Medicaid. The educational requirements say a candidate “shall have at least five years’ experience in a health-related field and/or shall possess a special knowledge of Medicaid as pertaining to the State of Mississippi.  The Deputy Director of Administration may perform those duties of the executive director that the executive director has not expressly retained for himself.” The bill stipulates that the deputy director of administration would serve at the will and pleasure of the governor, and would be appointed by the governor.

 Moak, along with several other House Democrats and at least one Republican, opposed that language in the bill, saying it had been inserted too late in the process to property evaluate, and that it appeared to intend for a specific person to become the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“When several of us found out about it (over the weekend), that was the first time we had seen it,” Moak said. “We were really concerned.”

And when Moak got the text message from Burton in which Burton encouraged Moak to support the bill as a whole, Moak said it “kind of raised my eyebrows. I had no conversations with Burton about this beforehand. So somebody told him I was against it. That’s my logical rationale.”

Magnolia Marketplace called Burton to get his reaction to what Moak had told us, and to ask him if he was interested in becoming the deputy director of administration at the Division of Medicaid.

“I’ve qualified to run for re-election,” he told us. In that conversation, he denied having contacted any House member to encourage them to support the bill.

A few minutes after that, we called Moak back, who told us that he had received another text message from Burton, this one asking Moak to delete any text messages from Burton. Moak did not delete the messages, he said, because they could be the subject of a public records request.

Shortly after that, we called Burton again, who admitted to basically lobbying for the bill to Moak, but denied several times that he had been given assurances that the deputy director of administration job would be his.

“I supported it because the governor and the Division of Medicaid supported it,” Burton said. “If it’s for Medicaid, I’m going to support it. I’ve heard I’m going to be everything from Division of Medicaid Director to the head of the Department of Public Safety. Anything’s possible. Would I take the job if offered? I might.”

The job won’t be extended to anybody, because the language dealing with it has been taken out of the bill, after Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, made a point of order on the House floor that eliminated it. The conference report for the bill, minus the deputy director of administration language, has already been approved by both chambers and will now go to Barbour.

“I just didn’t understand the need,” Baker said, when asked why he raised the point of order that ended up striking the language. “We’re spending too much as it is.”

According to House Appropriations Chairman Johnny Stringer, who was one of the House conferees, the Division of Medicaid requested the language be inserted in the bill.

Division of Medicaid spokesperson Francis Rullan did tell us in an email this morning that the deputy director of administration position already exists, and that he is under the impression that it currently requires a college degree and a CPA license. We’ve followed up our original inquiry to see if the position is currently filled, what the salary would be and if the Division of Medicaid requested the language that was struck from the bill.

Before Baker’s action, the bill would have required that a candidate either have five years’ worth of experience in the healthcare field, or an intimate knowledge of Mississippi’s Medicaid system, or both. There was no requirement a candidate hold a college degree. Burton’s bio on the Senate website lists his education as having been attained from Newton High School. No college or university is listed.

Barbour spokesperson Laura Hipp said that the governor did not request the language be inserted into the bill, “but he wouldn’t have objected to it had it made it into the final version.”

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.

Davis talks budget, redistricting at Stennis luncheon

March 7th, 2011 No comments

Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Monday he was “a little bit surprised” at Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant submitting his own redistricting plan late last week.

Davis was the speaker at the monthly lunch meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps in Jackson.

Bryant’s move came after the Senate Congressional Redistricting Committee and its chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, had earlier passed a plan of its own. Davis said the Senators would take up one of the plans when they gavel in Monday afternoon. Whether it’s Bryant’s or Newton’s is anybody’s guess.

“From speaking with some senior members of the Senate, I’ve gathered that this is the first time the process has been handled this way,” Davis said, referring to the dueling redistricting proposals.

We should note that Davis didn’t sound like he was criticizing Bryant; he was, in our view, just pointing out the unique situation the Senate finds itself in. How that shakes out should make for fascinating political theater.

On the budget side, Davis wouldn’t commit to many specific numbers, but he did say that Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have funded community colleges at the level they asked for was a good idea. “It’s entirely too early,” Davis said, to dole out money when budget-writers don’t have a crystal clear picture on what the revenue situation will be.

Each of the state’s K-12 districts can expect the same amount of funding in FY 2012 as they received in FY 2011, Davis said. “Budgeting in an election year during good times is difficult,” he said. “Budgeting in a recession and an election year and having to go through redistricting is a challenge the legislature hasn’t gone through in many, many years.”

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.

RNC Chairman: GOP leading the way in “battle for freedom”

February 22nd, 2011 No comments

New Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was in Jackson Tuesday afternoon visiting with Gov. Haley Barbour and other party VIPs.

He held a short press conference with Barbour, who was once RNC chair, at the state GOP headquarters. In his opening remarks, Priebus wasted no time in revealing what he thinks is at stake in the latest political fight between Republicans and Democrats.

“I believe we’re in a battle for freedom, and Republicans are leading the way,” he said of the budget brawl in which congressional GOP leadership have engaged President Obama.

The continuing resolution that is currently funding the federal government expires March 4, but Priebus wouldn’t speculate on the possibility of a government shutdown should no extension or long-term funding agreement be reached before then.

“The only people talking about a shutdown are the Democrats,” he said.

Priebus spent about nine minutes of the 10-minute press conference discussing the federal funding situation and the awful mess in his home state of Wisconsin over the collective bargaining rights of public workers, and the political holy war that has broken out between unions and Gov. Scott Walker.

“All (Walker is) asking for is just a little bit of help from the state employee unions to pay 12 percent on their healthcare benefits and 5 percent on their pension benefits, which is half of what everyone else is Wisconsin is doing,” Priebus said.

Priebus was a little less verbose when he was asked to lay odds on Barbour’s chances in 2012.

“I look up to and admire Gov. Barbour, but at the end of the day we’re going to have a lot of great (GOP) candidates,” he said. “Whether it’s Gov. Barbour or another candidate, we’ll have a lot of great choices.”

The only real news came when Barbour said he had not had a chance to read either of the two major bills to clear the Legislature recently — the payday lending legislation and the open meetings reform bill. Without giving them a once-over, Barbour said, he couldn’t commit to signing them or not signing them.

 

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

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: