Kemper county coal plant reaches construction milestone, as court hearing approaches

September 13th, 2012 No comments

Mississippi Power Co. announced a construction milestone for its Kemper County coal plant Thursday, one day before opponents have another day in court as part of their challenge to it.

A section of the facility’s gasifier – the piece of equipment that will covert lignite coal into the synthesis gas that will be used to produce electricity – has been installed. According to a MPC press release, construction on the project is nearing the halfway point. Commercial operation is scheduled to start in May 2014.

Friday morning in Gulfport, lawyers for the Sierra Club will appear in front of a Harrison County chancellor to argue that the second certificate the Mississippi Public Service Commission issued for the plant is invalid. The environmental group challenged the reissued certificate almost immediately after it was issued in April.

A new certificate for the plant became necessary March 15, when the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled the first certificate did not cite sufficient evidence from the record of proceedings.

The Sierra Club has long opposed the $2.88 billion Kemper facility, calling it an expensive and unnecessary hazard to the environment.

It’s possible that at the conclusion of Friday’s hearing, the presiding judge will issue a ruling. It’s more likely, though, that a written ruling will be handed down a few weeks or a couple months afterward. It’s almost a guarantee that whoever the judge rules against – either MPC or the Sierra Club – will appeal to the state supreme court.

Whenever that court has its say on the matter is when the PSC will again entertain rate increase requests related to the plant. Earlier this summer, commissioners ruled 3-0 to deny a proposed 13 percent rate hike that would have generated about $58 million. Commissioners said then that they would not hear any requests for rate increases until the supreme court had ruled on the pending litigation.

Toyota set to debut new ad tagline, replacing 8-year-old ‘Moving Forward’

September 12th, 2012 No comments

Since 2004, Toyota has tagged its advertising with “Moving Forward.”

That will change come Dec. 31.

Company president Akio Toyoda announced Tuesday at the Toyota National Dealer Meeting in Las Vegas that “Let’s Go Places” will debut as part of the roll out for the redesigned 2013 Avalon sedan.

A Toyota press release said the company used a team of six ad agencies it’s employed for past campaigns to come up with the new slogan and the branding initiative that will drive it.

“’Let’s Go Places’ speaks to the evolution of Toyota and our commitment to leading through innovation, enriching lives and connecting with customers in new ways they define,” said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division. “It is energetic, aspirational, inclusive and very versatile. The phrase conveys a dual meaning of physically going places and taking off on an adventure, while also expressing optimism and the promise of exciting innovation that enriches people’s lives. It allows our associates, customers, dealers, and suppliers to interpret it in ways that are most personally relevant to them.”

After the campaign for the new Avalon, “Let’s Go Places” will spread to ads for the other six newly designed Toyota and Scion vehicles, until it’s a part of all national and regional print and digital advertising.

Among the redesigns is the Corolla, made at Toyota’s Blue Springs plant. The facility, which started production last November, will start making the 2014 Corolla some time next year, along with the company’s plant in Canada.

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PSC issues record fine against telemarketers

September 11th, 2012 No comments

The Mississippi Public Service Commission voted 3-0 Tuesday morning to levy $5.7 million in fines for four telemarketers for violating the state’s No Call Law.

It’s the largest fine since the law took effect in 2003.

Two companies and an individual, all based in Arizona, were hit with fines totaling $5.7 million. Press releases from Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley and Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz said the telemarketers had been the target of nearly 400 complaints ranging from failing to register with the PSC to calling people on the No Call List to calling outside appointed times.

“I intend to collect this debt by any means possible, whether it is by fines, or by taking any assets,” Bentz said.

Said Presley: “We are serious about enforcing the Mississippi Do-Not-Call law and protecting the people of our state from unwanted telemarketing calls.”

To compare, in May the Commission fined a California man and his companies $945,000 for 189 violations of the No Call Law. Last month, a single violation cost a Nevada company $20,000.


Details of Golden Triangle regional economic development agency coming Friday

September 10th, 2012 No comments

Golden Triangle officials involved in the possible formation of a regional economic development organization self-imposed a Sept. 14 deadline to either come up with something or abandon the idea.

It appears they’ve come up with something.

Whatever that is will be unveiled Friday at 2 p.m. on the campus of East Central Mississippi Community College.

Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman told the Mississippi Business Journal earlier this summer that regional organizations would be a requirement moving forward for communities the size of Starkville, West Point and Columbus, if they wanted to compete for economic development mega-projects like Blue Springs’ Toyota plant.

“Our best opportunities lie in cooperation,” Wiseman said then.

This isn’t the first swing the three communities have taken at something like this. The Golden Triangle Regional Airport was a joint effort. But in the early 1970s, each county asked voters to approve a bond issue that would fund an industrial park to serve the entire area. Clay County voters approved it; voters in Lowndes and Oktibbeha did not.

Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, said in July that his organization would pay some role in getting a regional outfit operational. Higgins made a lot of the same points Wiseman did – combining the workforces of three counties would better get the attention of a big prospect than would the smallish workforce of one. More important than that, he said, is that when Mississippi’s congressional delegation is asked for help – financial or otherwise – on a particular project, they want to see more than one community doing the heavy lifting.

A few of the big questions that will need to be answered Friday is how the new organization will be funded, how it will be governed and who will lead the transition. Figuring out how to merge the mission of the new organization with the existing, individual economic development agencies will be another issue that requires attention.


Nissan announces openings in wake of poor national jobs report

September 7th, 2012 No comments

The August jobs report issued Friday morning was mostly met with disappointment, but there was some good news at Canton’s Nissan plant.

The company is looking for maintenance technicians. Candidates with a minimum of five years industrial tech experience are invited to go online to create a profile and submit a resume. Nissan will then select applicants for a round of in-person interviews.

Nissan recently announced that its Canton facility would add the Sentra compact sedan, the Xterra SUV and the Frontier compact truck to its production line. The company will still make the full-size Titan truck, Armada SUV and the mid-size Altima sedan in Canton. New hires to produce the expanded lineup will create a total of 1,000 new jobs, officials announced in June. Total employment at the facility is expected to reach 4,500.

With those additions, total employment at the facility, which opened in 2003, is expected to reach 4,500. To compare, the Toyota plant in Blue Springs employs a little more than 2,000 people directly, but it only produces one vehicle – the Corolla compact sedan.

To apply for a maintenance tech position at Nissan, go here.

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Lucky Town Brewing Co. agrees to terms with contract brewer

September 5th, 2012 No comments

A Jackson area brewery that recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign is starting to put that money to use.

Lucky Town Brewing Co. has purchased a 30-gallon fermenting tank, and has already placed it in craft beer brewery Back Forty Beer Co.’s facility. Based in Gadsden, Ala., Back Forty will brew Lucky Town’s beer on a contract basis. Lucky Town will be responsible for distributing its product. Each full tank will produce 806 gallons of beer, which breaks down to 6,176 pints.

According to a Lucky Town press release, the company will add tanks to Back Forty as distribution grows. Eventually, Lucky Town plans to open its own full-fledged brewing facility somewhere in Metro Jackson.

Lucky Town earlier this year used the online fundraising tool Kickstarter to generate just more than $20,000 to get its operation off the ground.

Contracting with Back Forty helps Lucky Town introduce its product into the market while it works on securing its own facility, and gives the company an idea of how much brewing capacity it will need, based on sales. Whatever equipment Lucky Town has at Back Forty will be moved to the new facility whenever it’s ready. Chip Jones, head of sales, marketing and distribution for Lucky Town, said Wednesday afternoon that Lucky Town having its own facility is still 18 months or so away.

“There’s nothing set in stone, but we’re shooting for early 2014.”

Back Forty will most likely start brewing Lucky Town’s beer by the end of September, Jones said.

Since Mississippi’s new beer laws took effect July, plans for a brewery in Hattiesburg have been unveiled, and breweries whose plans predate beer law reform have advanced rapidly. To go with Lucky Town, Crooked Letter Brewing Co. will start production in Ocean Springs in November.

Miss. Supreme Court punts issue of damages cap

August 23rd, 2012 No comments

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals almost two years ago asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to decide if the state’s cap on noneconomic damages was constitutional.

Thursday afternoon, state justices declined to do so. The question arose out of a personal injury lawsuit against Sears and Roebuck Co.

Plaintiff Lisa Learmonth was awarded $4 million by a federal jury, but that award was modified to conform with the tort cap. Learmonth’s attorneys appealed that modification to the Fifth Circuit, who kicked the issue to the state court for clarification on the cap.

In an 7-1 ruling (Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. did not participate) justices said that deciding the constitutionality of the $1 million cap on noneconomic damages arising from civil suits would “require engaging in speculation[,] conjecture[,] supposition[,] and
guesswork regarding what amount the jury [may have] awarded in economic damages and
what amount it [may have] awarded in noneconomic damages.”

Justice Jess Dickinson was the lone dissent. In his separate opinion, he said the court’s refusal to settle the cap question based on whether the federal court’s calculations used to arrive at the modified award were factual was to disregard simple math.

“The court deducted all claimed and proven economic damages in the amount of $1,781,094.40 from the total award of $4 million, to arrive at the noneconomic award of $2,218,905.60,” Dickinson wrote. “In third grade, I was asked: “If a farmer has ten apples and sells six, how many apples does he have left? Neither my answer of four apples, nor the district court’s mathematical calculation – according to the majority’s logic – was ‘factual.’”

The entire opinion can be read here.

Bulldogs continue winning streak over Rebels with Pontotoc’s Tailgate Challenge

August 20th, 2012 No comments

It’s football season, which means it’s tailgating season.

Things are already getting serious in Pontotoc. The Pontotoc County Chamber of Commerce and the Pontotoc Main Street Association held the first Rebel/Bulldog Tailgate Challenge Saturday on the town’s courthouse square.

The Challenge was essentially a barbecue cooking contest, with teams split into supporters of either Mississippi State or Ole Miss. Teams competed in four categories — ribs, chicken, pork and vegetables. Scores from each team were accumulated and applied to either Ole Miss or State. State won, and received a trophy for doing so. No word yet if there’s a billboard planned to mark the victory.

Moving on, there is a new industry organization that caters to businesses that cater to tailgaters. That could potentially be a wide range of places — grocery stores, gas stations, home improvement places, even furniture stores. The Tailgating Industry Association works like other trade organizations: Members pay a fee and the association markets, promotes and otherwise tries to make its members money.

The Association’s website doesn’t have a list of members, but it does list a fee schedule: Manufacturers and suppliers with less than $2 million in annual revenue pay $500 annually. That number increases based on annual sales, and is capped at $2,500. Media outlets can join for $250. (The Mississippi Business Journal will not be joining.)

Check out the TIA’s website here.


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Toyota executive: Company fully recovered from last year’s tsunami

August 14th, 2012 No comments

The senior vice president for Toyota Motor Sales USA said Tuesday morning that the automaker is having a much better go of it than this time last year.

Bob Carter, speaking at the J.P. Morgan Auto Conference in New York, said overall sales were up 26 percent for July and 30 percent for the year, mostly because Toyota can again meet its demand as its Japanese facilities get back online after last year’s tsunami. To add to that, Carter said, the company is growing because several new versions of old products are selling well.

Sales of the new Camry, for example, were 39 percent higher in July than for the same period in 2011. It’s still the best-selling car in America, holding a 60,000 unit lead over the second place Honda Accord.

Carter didn’t offer any new numbers associated with the Corolla – though he did mention the plant in Blue Springs – there was some news that could potentially have an impact in Mississippi. For a few months now, rumors have flown – and have not exactly been denied by Toyota executives – that the Blue Springs facility could eventually build the Prius to go with the Corolla.

Combined sales of the new Prius v and the original Prius liftback have set retail volume records every month from last November until July, maintaining 43 percent of the hybrid market share.

Overall, Toyota expects sales of 2 million units in 2012, which would mean an 18 percent jump from last year.


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Texas-based KBR still involved with Kemper plant, spokesperson says

August 7th, 2012 No comments

Word started circulating Monday that Mississippi Power Co. had ended its relationship with KBR, a Texas-based engineering and construction design/build firm involved in the Kemper County coal plant.

That’s not the case, a KBR spokesperson told the Mississippi Business Journal Tuesday morning.

Marianne Gooch said KBR is winding down its involvement in the construction phase of the plant, but will still provide engineering and start-up services. The plant is scheduled to begin commercial operation in May 2014. Employees in KBR’s construction division will leave the job site by this Thursday, Aug. 9, Gooch said, but will have the opportunity to catch on with other construction companies MPC and its parent Southern Co. are using to build the $2.88 billion plant.

KBR owns a portion of the Transport Integrated Gasification technology that will be used at the Kemper facility.

The coal plant has been the subject of a legal challenge from the Sierra Club, which currently has the issue in Harrison County Chancery Court for a second time. The Mississippi Public Service Commission voted in late June not to take any action on rate increase requests associated with the plant until the litigation concludes. The Mississippi Supreme Court last week denied MPC’s request to institute interim rate increases while the appeals process moved forward.

A MPC spokesperson did not immediately return cell phone and email messages Tuesday morning.

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