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Brookings Institution likes Jackson

September 15th, 2009 No comments

A report released today by the Brookings Institution may offer a glimmer of hope that some sort of economic recovery is gaining traction.

Brookings analyzed the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., basing their strength on four factors:

• Percent employment change from peak quarter to the second quarter of 2009

• Percentage point change in unemployment rate from June 2008 to June 2009

• Percent change in gross metropolitan product from peak quarter to the second quarter of 2009

• Percent change in housing prices from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009

Of the 100 metro areas, Brookings listed the 20 strongest and the 20 weakest, relative to how they are weathering the recession. Jackson was among the 20 strongest.

The full list, complete with data from each area, can be found here.

Categories: News Tags:

Hosemann releases 2009 Municipal Elections Report

September 14th, 2009 No comments

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann released the 2009 Municipal Elections Report late this morning.

Essentially, the report outlines the questions, complaints and allegations Hosemann’s office received about the elections in Mississippi’s municipalities.

According to the report, the two biggest complaints voters had were precinct changes and their names not being on the voter rolls. Those issues accounted for nearly 25 percent of calls to the elections hotline Hosemann’s office had set up.

The runner-up behind precincts and voter rolls were allegations that candidates or their representatives were campaigning within 150 feet of a polling place, which is a no-no.

Neither of those is going to cause any great headache for Hosemann.

But this probably will: The report lists allegations of voter fraud in New Albany in a couple different forms. One accuses New Albany police officers of delivering absentee ballots to people’s homes and  instructing them how to vote. An addendum to that complaint says that absentee ballots marked for one particular candidate were given to New Albany cops to return to the voter with instructions to switch their vote.

Another claims the New Albany city clerk endorsed a candidate — though the report did not name who the candidate was or what office he/she was seeking — before handing over an absentee ballot to folks who had asked for one.

Obviously, Hosemann, attorney general Jim Hood and/or their agents either have already spent some time or will spend some time in Union County.

There could be other towns on the travel itinerary.

Similar stories from Macon and Canton are listed in the report, along with an array of other issues from across the state. The full report can be read here.

Categories: Delbert Hosemann, Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Looking back and looking ahead

September 14th, 2009 No comments

Pretty intense football weekend, wasn’t it? Georgia and South Carolina came down to the wire. Notre Dame lost to Michigan in the worst way possible, as did Ohio State to USC. New Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen’s first SEC game would have gone a lot better had Tim Tebow still been his quarterback. Ole Miss was in a slugfest with H1N1.

Magnolia Marketplace was unusually quiet last week, thanks to a combination of a server that has yet to behave the way it should, and a mountain of work on long-term stuff.

The regular edition of the MBJ published this week has a story about a former in-house counsel at Toyota who has alleged in a lawsuit that the company hindered his investigations related to rollover lawsuits from 2004 to 2007, altered some of his findings or destroyed evidence all together. Pretty serious stuff.

Toyota has filed a motion with the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, where the suit was filed, to have the documents sealed. For now, though, they are a part of the public record, and there is some pretty inflammatory language coming from the plaintiff, who once was the architect of Toyota’s defense of the thousands of rollover claims.

In other Toyota litigation news, the Prius Hybrid, which is scheduled for production in Blue Springs at some point, is the star of a lawsuit Paice LLC filed against Toyota. It focuses on the the hybrid technology itself. This isn’t the first time Paice and Toyota have engaged in legal warfare. The two share an extensive history.

Also, Gov. Haley Barbour will hold a symposium focusing on healthcare and energy and will also unveil an initiative aimed at helping small businesses tomorrow afternoon at the Jackson Convention Complex. Staff writer Nash Nunnery will be there to provide coverage for the MBJ.

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

Chaney addresses Stennis crowd

September 8th, 2009 No comments

I meant to post a reminder this morning, but the official server of Magnolia Marketplace was late to realize that the Labor Day holiday did not stretch into Tuesday.

Nevertheless, Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney keynoted today’s monthly luncheon of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps. Chaney hit on a number of things during his roughly 35-minute presentation that featured a slideshow. The biggest news, and it wasn’t really news, is that Chaney said there was “no way” the Mississippi Insurance Department was going to grant State Farm’s request for a 45 percent rate increase in homeowner’s insurance policies on the Mississippi Coast. Chaney had made that assertion shortly after the company formally asked for it a couple weeks ago.

The MID is also freezing some open positions, including those that would inspect mobile homes in the state, while the budget situation remains unsettled. Chaney did say that he would issue a request for proposals “in the next 14 to 21 days” to private companies to perform the inspections.

The rest of the Chaney’s time at the podium was spent running down the details of the State Fire Academy. Chaney, by statute, is the boss of it, and it looks pretty interesting. There are several cars and even an airplane submerged in a lake on the premises that act as training aids for rescue operations that require underwater maneuvering around cars and/or airplanes.

Pretty neat, right?

No surprise: State’s budget under the axe

September 3rd, 2009 No comments

In what Magnolia Marketplace all but predicted yesterday, Gov. Haley Barbour has announced he is cutting $171.9 million from the budget for fiscal year 2010. The cuts will affect almost every agency, including education. Spared were Medicaid, the Mississippi Department of Corrections and court-ordered expenditures and debt service.

Not every facet of the education budget came under the gun. The National Board Certification program and student financial aid line items remain whole — “for now,” Barbour said.

The National Board Certification program is significant. It pays teachers who meet the standards a $6,000 annual salary supplement. The program was up for debate during budget negotiations in May and June. Dozens of teachers showed up at the Capitol and, as you might expect, let lawmakers know they wanted to keep their money.

The fiscal year is barely two months old, and the budget is already smaller than it was when it started. The Joint Legislative Budget Committee meets later this month to begin drafting rough outlines for next fiscal year’s budget. Care to guess what the overriding theme will be?

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Barbour to address budget

September 2nd, 2009 No comments

Just got word from Gov. Barbour’s office that there will be a press conference at 1 p.m. Thursday in which Barbour will, according to a news release, announce “major decisions” pertaining to the state’s FY10 budget, which has been active about two months now.

With revenues continuing to lag behind even dire estimates — August’s revenue was short about 2 percent — it seems pretty likely that state agencies will have their budgets cut. Barbour has hinted at the possibility the past week or so.

State budget writers are scheduled to meet later this month to start the process of hammering out the spending outline for FY11, which doesn’t start for another 10 months. The outlook, though, is already dim.

As usual, Magnolia Marketplace will be there Thursday and will post the particulars ASAP.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Facts and figures from District at Eastover roundtable

September 1st, 2009 No comments

As promised, here are the particulars of Duckworth Realty President and CEO Ted Duckworth’s update of the District at Eastover, a 640,000 square-foot mixed-use development at the site of the old Mississippi School for the Blind that will feature retail and restaurant space, a movie theater, a hotel and residential space built over two phases.

Duckworth is negotiating with the Mississippi Development Authority and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann lease terms that have to be finalized before Duckworth can pursue financing for the $150 million project. The state owns the land, and instead of selling it, plans on leasing it to Duckworth, who in turn will develop the District at Eastover.

Long story short, some of the major parameters of the lease were defined in the legislation that made the land eligible for private development. Duckworth will pay the state rent equivalent to 10 percent of the land value, with the rent escalating 10 percent every five years. What is still unsettled is the payments to the state beyond that, an amount determined by the profits the project generates.

At first blush, this looks like a pretty good deal for the state. Duckworth has not asked for any state money up front. His company would be responsible for the $1.2 million it would take to demolish the existing buildings on the property and build a new executive director’s residence and a bus barn for the School, both of which were written into the legislation as mandatory before construction could start.

The land is currently non tax-producing and sits between Eastover and Woodland Hills, two of the most affluent neighborhoods in Mississippi. Duckworth provided population estimates that have 90,000 people living within a five-minute drive of the District, with those folks having an average annual income of $114,000.

Duckworth’s numbers also said that the project would generate $2.3 million in state sales taxes annually and $2.5 million in property tax revenue for Jackson. It would create 333 new jobs.

Duckworth said that “a lot of progress” has been made in the last couple weeks regarding the terms of the lease beyond the base rent agreement. Obviously, each side is angling to secure the best deal possible, with Duckworth seeking an agreement that would make it feasible for lenders to jump on board and make the project viable long-term. Hosemann and the MDA are trying to make the state as much money as possible as tax revenues continue to plunge.

Duckworth went to great lengths not to paint Hosemann or the MDA as an obstacle to the  project getting underway. The biggest hindrance so far, he said, is that this is a brand new concept in Mississippi — the state leasing land to a private developer for a project of this magnitude — and a fairly new one nationwide. There’s not much of a precedent to guide negotiations.

“Somebody should acquiesce, and it shouldn’t have to be us,” Duckworth said, in what was about as pointed as his comments regarding the negotiations got during the two-hour meeting.

The sales pitch for the project touches on a familiar theme for new development in Jackson: new urbanism. Mississippi does not offer an urban lifestyle that many young professionals want, as evidenced in the 2000 Census that revealed a sharp drop in college-educated people in their 20s and 30s. (Magnolia Marketplace can name dozens of folks that age who have made a beeline for places like Nashville, Atlanta and Birmingham before the ink on their diplomas was dry.) Downtown Jackson has made some strides with things like Fondren and the soon-to-open King Edward Hotel, whose developer, David Watkins, was in attendance today along with other economic developers and members of the Legislature.

Magnolia Marketplace hasn’t been privy to the negotiations between Duckworth and the state, and Duckworth didn’t reveal whether they had taken a confrontational tone, but this deal makes too much sense not to get done. The land is not bringing in revenue. Even if a lease deal is struck and the development goes completely belly-up, what did the state lose? Like Downtown Jackson Partners President Ben Allen says all the time, “One hundred percent of nothing is still nothing.” And that’s exactly what Jackson and the state are currently getting out of the property.

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

New development update

September 1st, 2009 No comments

The drive in to Downtown is rarely pleasant, owing to the traffic and the inevitable delays, but it nearly became disastrous this morning when the driver of a Suburban felt her cell phone required more attention than the Waterworks Curve on I-55. Magnolia Marketplace is as guilty as anybody of driving and talking, so this isn’t meant to cast any stones. But we could all do better, right?

To some news …

Later this morning, Jackson developer Ted Duckworth of Duckworth Realty will offer the latest about the District at Eastover, the mixed-use development you can learn more about here.

The briefing starts at 11:30 in the Electric 308 building in Downtown Jackson. As usual, Magnolia Marketplace will be there, with details posted ASAP. And it’s a walking trip, so all signs point toward an easier time than this morning’s commute.

Categories: Economic development, News Tags:

Lots of disagreement over MUW name change

August 31st, 2009 No comments

I wrote a story for this week’s edition of the MBJ that looks at all the discord over the proposal to rename Mississippi University for Women Reneau University.

There has been very little meeting of the minds since MUW President Claudia Limbert announced Aug. 10 that Reneau was the choice. The alumnae association has come out strongly against a name change, suggesting a “re-branding” of the university instead. Business groups are mixed. The Mississippi Economic Council and the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link support it. Some of the Link’s members oppose it. I talked to two of them for the story.

I tried to contact a couple legislators who serve on the Universities and Colleges Committee in both the House and Senate but did not hear back from any until the issue had gone to press. I heard from Sen. Doug Davis, R-Hernando, who chairs Universities and Colleges, as the presses were literally running.

Davis did not come down firmly on either side of the issue, but did say that any conversation and/or debate that centered on higher education in Mississippi was fine with him. Davis and other lawmakers, and the College Board who will have to sign off on the proposal before it can reach the Capitol, will no doubt be besieged by groups advocating for and against Reneau. It’s an emotional issue and both sides seem to have dug in for a fight. Should be interesting.

Governor, First Lady salute Katrina volunteers

August 27th, 2009 No comments

As we mentioned yesterday, Gov. Barbour and First Lady Marsha Barbour were scheduled to honor two volunteers who helped Mississippi out a whole bunch after Hurricane Katrina. Honor them they did.

Ellen Ratner and Cholene Espinoza, two New Yorkers who work for Talk Radio News Service, were at the Governor’s Mansion this afternoon to be recognized for the work they did after Katrina. Barbour said for the first 12 months after Katrina, the state was able to capture the names and addresses of 600,000 different volunteers who helped with the recovery.

“They came from literally every state in the country and many from outside the United States,” the governor said

Ratner and Espinoza played a big part in the building of the Marsha Barbour Community Resource Center in DeLisle in Harrison County. “They took the bull by the horns and they raised the money and put the team together, the team on the ground,” Gov. Barbour said.

Dedication for the Center is Saturday. It will feature a swimming pool, computer lab, a medical room to treat minor medical issues, a basketball court and everything else a community center needs.

“The only way I can reconcile the images of Katrina is if something good came of it,” Espinoza said.

Ratner, in her role as the host of a liberal-leaning talk show, has known Barbour a while. She had a lot of good things to say about Marsha Barbour and her work immediately after the storm.

“This is an amazing story and it’s an amazing story of true leadership,” Ratner said.

Ratner and Espinoza are only two of the army of people who spent their own time and money to help South Mississippi get back on its feet. As big as the storm was, the helping hand we got was even bigger. That’s probably one of the most important things to remember as the fourth anniversary approaches.

So to Ratner, Espinoza and all the others: Thanks, ya’ll.