Toyota’s arrival well-deserved for NE Mississippi

November 17th, 2011 No comments

BLUE SPRINGS  — At the “line-off” ceremony Thursday at the massive Toyota facility in Blue Springs, everybody — and I mean everybody — who spoke offered the same reason we were there in the first place: Northeast Mississippi’s workforce is spectacularly skilled.

It’s hard to argue with that. This region was the furniture manufacturing capitol of the state before a lot of those jobs went overseas early in the 21st Century. People here are good at building stuff. Now 2,000 of those people will play some role in building the Corolla.

>> SEE RELATED STORY: THE HILLS ARE ALIVE!

Regular readers know that the hill country was where I was born and raised, and that it’s still my home, even though I live and work in Jackson. So I’m biased, sure, but what I’m about to tell you didn’t come from me. It came from the fellow I sat next to on the media bus once the festivities ended: The people here are the nicest in the world, and it’s not even close.

And he would know. I didn’t catch his name, but he was a correspondent for Al-Jazeera English. He was originally from the United Kingdom, had recently left the BBC, and was now stationed out of Miami.

So when he says the people in Northeast Mississippi are the nicest in the world, it means something. “They’re just over the moon,” he said. He had spent the two days prior to Thursday talking to folks at greasy spoons, gas stations, their homes, anywhere he could find somebody who had an opinion about Toyota. “I wish my work would bring me here more often,” he said.

And that’s what we want people to say about us, right? That we’re nice and we’re good at building stuff. Not just any kind of stuff, but advanced machines like the 10th generation Toyota Corolla, which is the best-selling car in the world.

That’s what Akio Toyoda, whose grandfather started Toyota, said.

“We’re here because of the workforce,”he hammered out in broken English.

“Mississippi’s workforce is the best there is,” Toyota Mississippi President Masafumi Hamaguchi managed to say in even more broken English.

“The first thing Toyota told us when they picked us was that it was because of the workforce,” Gov. Haley Barbour said in his signature drawl.

No matter the style of the language, the message is the same.

That doesn’t mean everything will be perfect, either. If the recession double dips and the economy takes another major tumble, demand for new cars will drop just like it did in 2008 and 2009. That will mean hard decisions have to be made at every Toyota manufacturing plant. A drop in demand is the single reason why Thursday didn’t happen in 2010 instead of 2011.

There could be recalls and quality crises or any number of things. It happens.

But that’s for then. Thursday was a good day in Northeast Mississippi, and the people up here earned it.

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Justice Carlson announces his retirement

November 14th, 2011 No comments

Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice George Carlson announced Monday morning that he will retire after he completes his term, which runs through January 2013. I’ve gotten to know Justice Carlson pretty well the past few years (his daughter is married to the guy who was the best man in my wedding. Other than that Chandler fellow, he’s my favorite on the Court). Justice Carlson is a fine public servant who has earned his retirement.

Here’s the full release from the Court:

Mississippi Supreme Court Presiding Justice George C. Carlson Jr. of Batesville today announced that he plans to retire at the end of his term in January 2013. He will complete the term, but will not seek reelection in November 2012.

Justice Carlson, 65, will have completed 30 years of public service as a judge in January 2013, with 11 years of service on the Supreme Court and 19 years as a circuit judge for the 17th Circuit District. Then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove appointed him to a vacancy on the Supreme Court effective Nov. 1, 2001.

Justice Carlson said he loves his work and enjoys good health, but looks forward to spending time with his wife, his son and daughter and their spouses, and three grandchildren.

Justice Carlson said, “I feel the Lord has blessed me with good health and the wisdom to realize that it is time to go home to Batesville and enjoy my family in retirement.” 

“I continue to enjoy every day as a public servant for the citizens of Mississippi. I love coming to work every day,” he said.

“My decision to retire in no way involves a waning of energy or enjoyment in the performance of the duties that the citizens of the 33-county northern Supreme Court district have entrusted to me by their votes at the polls in 2004.  I am honored for the trust that they placed in me, and I am honored for the trust that former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove placed in me by way of his appointment of me to this office. Likewise, I must acknowledge the citizens of the five-county 17th Circuit Court District in northwest Mississippi. In 1982, they humbled this then-36-year-old lawyer with their votes, electing me as a circuit judge, thus enabling me to embark upon this incredible journey as a state judge.” 

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said, “Presiding Justice Carlson is a tireless public servant whose life is characterized by hard work, attention to detail, fairness and collegiality. No one worked longer hours or paid more attention to the work of the Court than Justice Carlson. Above all, he demonstrates the highest ethical standards possible in his public and personal life. No person has positively shaped the image of the Court in the past 10 years more than Presiding Justice Carlson.”

The catalyst for Presiding Justice Carlson’s decision to retire came during the 2010 Labor Day weekend, when  his daughter and his daughter-in-law announced that they were pregnant.  “I knew then…that I was ready to return home at the end of this current term,” he said.

He and his wife,  Jane Ivy Russel Carlson, have three grandchildren, ages 2 ½, 7 months and 6 months. His daughter and her family live in Batesville. His son and family live in Atlanta.

While he has an apartment at the Ross Barnett Reservoir and lives there during the work week, his home has always been Batesville. He is an elder in the Batesville Presbyterian Church. He also  serves as the radio play-by-play announcer for his high school alma mater, the South Panola Tigers.

Justice Carlson said, “While the justices on this Court make sacrifices in their service to this state and her citizens, the real sacrifices are made by our families. Through the years, our northern Supreme Court district justices traditionally have commuted back and forth from our home towns to Jackson to perform our constitutional duties while maintaining our church, civic and family responsibilities back home.  Over time, spending the week in Jackson and a brief weekend at home takes its toll.  With this in mind, I implore all northern Supreme Court district lawyers and judges who might consider becoming a candidate for this position to prayerfully consider their decision with their families.

“The timing of my announcement is by design,” Justice Carlson said. “I waited until after the 2011 General Election to make this announcement.  But I wanted those who might be interested in this position to have the opportunity to discuss this important decision with their families who will gather during the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.

“I have had the honor and privilege of serving with 16 justices on this Court.  Without exception, each justice possessed, and possesses, unique abilities and a genuine desire to fully perform the constitutional duties as a justice on this Court. Thank goodness, we have been diverse in our approaches to the disposition of the cases before us.  This diversity and differences of opinion among the justices, in the end, produce solid opinions grounded in the law after all the issues have been fully vetted. Also, we could not get our work done without our loyal and dedicated staff, including our judicial assistants and law clerks, and those in the clerk’s office, court administration, central legal, business office, State Library, ITS, security, Mississippi Electronic Courts, and Administrative Office of Courts, as well as all other departments.

“Other than the ministry, I feel that there is no greater calling than that of being a public servant.  When I  took the oath of office as a circuit judge in January 1983, my parents presented me with a framed Scripture from Micah 6:8 – ‘And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, love kindness and walk humbly before your God?’  I hope I have lived up to this charge.”

Justice Carlson is second in seniority among the nine-member Supreme Court. He  has served as a Presiding Justice since Jan. 5, 2009. The Supreme Court usually works in panels of three justices.  The Chief Justice, the justice with the longest time on the court, presides over one panel.  The two justices next in seniority  preside over the two other panels. 

He is chair of the Supreme Court  Rules Committee on Civil Practice and Procedure. He also is chair of the Mississippi Model Jury Instructions Commission, which is conducting a comprehensive examination of jury instructions used in state courts and formulating recommendations to the Supreme Court.

Justice Carlson served as a member on the Governor’s Criminal Justice Task Force in 1991, and as a member of the Commission on the Courts in the 21st Century 1992-1993. He served as a member of the Professionalism Committee of the Mississippi Bar 1998-1999, and as a member of the Law School Professionalism Program Task Force 1998-1999. He served as vice-chair of the Mississippi Conference of Circuit Judges 1998-1999, and chair of the Conference  1999-2000.

Justice Carlson is a member and past president of the Panola County Bar Association, and a member and past president of the William C. Keady American Inns of Court. He is a Fellow of the Mississippi Bar Foundation.  He is a member of the American Bar Association, the American Judges Association, the Mississippi Bar, and the Lamar Order of the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Justice Carlson is a 1964 graduate of South Panola High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Mississippi State University in 1969, and a law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1972. Justice Carlson  graduated from the National Judicial College, University of Nevada, Reno, in October 1982.

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Eminent domain initiative roars to passage, but nothing is settled

November 13th, 2011 No comments

We might have finally found something Mississippians of every political persuasion can agree on: The use of eminent domain for private economic development is a bad idea.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting late last Wednesday afternoon, Initiative 31, which will amend the state Constitution to essentially restrict the use of eminent domain to projects of direct public use, had earned more than 595,000 votes. The initiative needed 50 percent plus one, with the affirmative votes equaling at least 40 percent of total votes cast in all races, to pass. With 96 percent of precincts reporting, 73 percent of the votes cast were in favor of 31.

The 595,000 votes were more than all but one of the winners of the statewide races got. Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves had gotten about 598,000 votes by 3 p.m. last Wednesday.

Eminent domain’s initiative colleagues didn’t come close to that. Personhood failed altogether. Voter ID passed, but got 94,000 fewer votes.

Personhood’s defeat would qualify as a minor upset. There was never very much doubt that Voter ID would pass. Likewise with eminent domain, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who supported it would have thought that it would outpoll Gov.-elect Phil Bryant by 90,000 votes with 96 percent of precincts reporting.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and its 200,000 “member families” made eminent domain their single biggest issue the past 18 months. The latest issue of Farm Country, the organization’s magazine, was almost nothing but testimonials from members on the virtues of private property rights.

Nothing is settled, though. The new eminent domain law will almost assuredly be challenged on the grounds that amending the state Constitution – specifically, the Constitution’s Bill of Rights — via ballot initiative is illegal. The Mississippi Supreme Court deferred the issue when Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland Speed challenged it earlier this year, arguing that it would kill any chance the state had of attracting projects like the Toyota and Nissan manufacturing facilities.

Speed had not returned a message left with a MDA spokesperson by the time the Mississippi Business Journal went to press last week. In an interview with the MBJ earlier this year, he said he would most likely challenge the initiative if it passed.

Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation president Randy Knight said last week that he had not communicated directly with Speed, but was under the impression that Speed would seek to overturn the law.

“We’re expecting one,” Knight said. “We’re still real optimistic, though. It’s hard to fathom that the Mississippi Supreme Court would do away with something that 73 percent of Mississippians are so strongly in favor of.”

Matt Steffey, a professor at Jackson’s Mississippi College School of Law who has followed each of the three initiatives closely, said the state’s high Court would not decide the issue based on its popularity, but on its legal merits.

“While I think that personhood clearly transcended the limits of what the initiative process can be used for, the eminent domain only arguably does,” he said.

What separates the two amendments, he said, is that the text of the Personhood initiative would have amended the Bill of Rights’ use of the word “person.”

“It sought to fundamentally redefine the balance of liberty contained in the Bill of Rights,” Steffey said. “It essentially took direct aim at the Bill of Rights. That’s not the way the text of the eminent domain initiative reads. So the argument is at least that much removed. The argument will be, in effect, that the Bill of Rights already strikes a balance between private property rights and governmental need. The argument could be that this alters that balance.”

“On the other hand,” Steffey continued, “it doesn’t add to or subtract from or redefine any of the words in the Bill of Rights. In that sense, it’s different. You could argue that it doesn’t modify any existing understanding of state constitutional law. Either way, I’m absolutely certain there will be a challenge to it.”

Categories: Elections, Eminent domain, News, Politics Tags:

Personhood lesson: Freedom of speech a right that should be employed with dignity

November 11th, 2011 No comments

Those who have taken up arms for the United States have given and preserved precious freedoms. One of those is the freedom of speech.

So let’s compare how two of Mississippi’s most recognizable elected officials chose to exercise that freedom when they discussed right before Tuesday’s elections their views on the Personhood amendment, or Initiative 26.

On Monday, Nov. 7, Congressman Gregg Harper was the speaker at the monthly luncheon of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps. When he ended his 20-minute speech, I asked him how he planned to vote on the three ballot initiatives the next day, just like I asked the two agricultural candidates and treasurer candidate Connie Moran before that. Harper said he would vote “yes” on all three, and acknowledged that it “would probably upset some people.”

Here is what Harper said, verbatim, about 26:

“I was surprised (at the amount of opposition to it). I thought it would be a slam dunk early on. I believe life begins at conception. That’s not a hard vote for me in that situation. Planned Parenthood is good. Politically they know how to get things done. If you read that language, and I’ve talked to some OB-GYNs and some other medical folks — nobody, if they’re honest, believes that it will keep a woman from getting birth control pills or stop in vitro fertilization. It won’t stop a doctor from saving the life of the mother if there’s an ectopic pregnancy. Those are things designed to create a stir over an issue.

“But I don’t want to lose sight of this: If I don’t stand up for the life of that unborn child, who’s going to do that? What’s more important? I understand a woman’s right to her body. But I’m also going to say, ‘does that child have any rights whatsoever?’ If we look at the breakdown on most abortions, the overwhelming majority are elective procedures because the mama doesn’t want to have the baby. I think that if we don’t stand up, nobody else is, and I think the process and procedure (of abortion) has been very harmful to our country over the decades.”

Now let’s look at how then-Lt. Gov. and now-Gov.-elect Phil Bryant addressed 26 in an appearance Nov. 4 on an American Family Association radio show. The entire seven-minute interview won’t be transcribed here verbatim because the back-and-forth between the host and Bryant, who is the co-chair of the Yes on 26 Committee, would run into the thousands of words. To listen to the entire interview, click here:

“I just believe that this is one of the reasons I was here,” Bryant said, “that Personhood was our opportunity to say loud and clear to people all over America that we want to end abortion in our time, and I want to stop it here in Mississippi. I believe I was led here by the Lord to help take up this cause, to say that this is something you’ve got to stand for no matter what the political temperature or how the winds blow at you. We want to stand firm for life and I’m just honored to be a part of it, and I believe we’re going to win on Tuesday.”

The host of the show asked Bryant how he felt about Gov. Haley Barbour initially expressing concerns about 26’s ambiguity before revealing a day or two later, at a get-out-the-vote rally for Bryant, that he had indeed voted for the measure. Bryant replied, and I’m paraphrasing, that it was obvious that Barbour had prayed about the matter before voting. Bryant added that we’re still debating some parts of the U.S. Bill of Rights 200 years later, the debate over 26 was no different, and that he appreciated Barbour saying at his event that he had supported 26 with his vote.

The host then suggested that divine intervention had a lot to do with Barbour voting absentee for 26, so he could provide a pre-Election Day jolt to its chances of passing. That’s when Bryant’s tone changed.

“This is a battle of good and evil,” he said. “Let’s just make it plain. There is the evil side, the dark side of the forces, Satan and those that would love to continue to kill children while they’re still in the womb, are out there using every effort that they can, anything at their disposal. Now even in these times, if you talk too much about the fact that evil that does exist, people think there’s something wrong with him. What times are we living in when it is politically incorrect for someone to say that Satan has a hand in this? And you’ve got to understand that we’ve got to fight against the gates of hell to prevail here, and that’s exactly what I’ve been saying. I think when I say those things, I see people recognizing the fact that this is a Biblical battle of good and evil.”

Precisely the same view, wildly different ways of explaining it. One way is clearly better than the other; and it has nothing to do with political correctness, and everything to do with being polite, dignified and respectful.

Categories: Elections, News, Politics Tags:

Eminent domain bridges the great political divide (Updated)

November 9th, 2011 No comments

We might have finally found something Mississippians of every political persuasion can agree on: The use of eminent domain for private economic development is a bad, bad idea.

Just before 11 Tuesday night, Initiative 31, which will amend the state Constitution to essentially restrict the use of eminent domain to projects of direct public use, had earned more than 498,000 votes. The initiative needed 50 percent plus one, with the affirmative votes equaling at least 40 percent of total votes cast in all races, to pass. With 83 percent of precincts reporting, 73 percent of the votes cast were in favor of 31.

The 498,000 votes were more than all but one of the winners of the statewide races got. Lt. Gov.-elect Tate Reeves, who had what could charitably be called token opposition, had gotten about 509,000 votes by 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Eminent domain’s initiative colleagues didn’t come close to that. Personhood, some of whose supporters and opponents need to take a long look in the mirror after the shenanigans of the past few weeks, failed altogether. Voter ID passed, but got 80,000 fewer votes.

Personhood’s defeat would qualify as a minor upset. There was never very much doubt that Voter ID would pass. Likewise with Eminent Domain, but I can’t imagine anyone who supported it dared to dream that it would outpoll Gov.-elect Phil Bryant by 60,000 votes with more than 80 percent of precincts reporting.

The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation and its 200,000 “member families” made eminent domain their single biggest issue the past 18 months. (Disclosure: I am a Farm Bureau member). The latest issue of “Farm Country,” the organization’s magazine, was almost nothing but testimonials from members on the virtues of private property rights.

But this is not over, not by a long shot. The new eminent domain law will be challenged on the grounds that amending the state Constitution via ballot initiative is illegal. More than one legal scholar has told me that it could not withstand serious judicial scrutiny. The Mississippi Supreme Court basically punted the issue when Mississippi Development Authority interim executive director Leland speed challenged it earlier this year. Expect another one early next year.

Property rights, especially in our rural state, go beyond the normal wonkish back-and-forth. One’s land is one’s kingdom, so there’s plenty of raw emotion involved whenever the specter of land forcibly swapping private ownership arises.

On the other side of that is the economic development lobby that insists mega-projects like Toyota and Nissan cannot happen without the ability for the state to employ eminent domain.

Nothing is settled, but those who supported 31 deserve to revel in their victory for now.

Wednesday morning update: Initiative 31 is still outpolling every statewide official but Reeves at 9:30. With only 61 out of 1,876 precincts still out, “yes” votes for 31 have reached over 588,000. Reeves has pulled in about 593,000 votes.

Categories: Elections, Eminent domain, News, Politics Tags:

Harper: Yes on all three initiatives. Plus, one man’s take on Ole Miss

November 7th, 2011 1 comment

Congressman Gregg Harper said at the Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon Monday that he will vote “yes” on all three ballot initiatives Tuesday.

That was the newsiest item from his 20-minute speech to maybe 50 people at the University Club in Jackson, but certainly not the most entertaining.

Harper opened with an announcement that Steve Guyton, a longtime Mississippi GOP operative who currently works for Sen. Roger Wicker, would be the new head coach at Ole Miss, replacing the fired Houston Nutt. Chip Reynolds, Harper’s district director, would serve as the new athletic director once Pete Boone leaves some time in 2012.

There were laughs all around.

Putting on my serious face, here’s what I hope happens: that Ole Miss hires somebody for both positions that is a world-class salesman. The new athletic director has to sell the overall program — and the massive capital campaign — to everybody. He has to sell it to those in the luxury boxes and to the folks in the bleachers, and he has to use every method that exists to do so. If he’s pumping gas and a kid walks by wearing an Ole Miss hat, he has to engage that kid and tell him that Ole Miss is the greatest place on earth.

The new coach has to sell the football program to recruits whose high school years have, for the most part, coincided with Ole Miss losing to Vanderbilt, losing to Jacksonville State, and sitting on the bottom of the Western Division standings. He has to make kids who have other SEC scholarship offers believe that Ole Miss is the place where all his dreams will come true.

Mississippi State has men who are really good at each, as hard as it is to admit. AD Scott Stricklin and coach Dan Mullen deserve a world of credit for what they’ve done in Starkville. Radical culture changes within an athletic department are possible, but it requires creative thinking, something that has been in awfully short supply at Ole Miss for longer than I’ve been alive; and a willingness to do things other than the way they’ve always been done.

The Ole Miss brand isn’t worth a lot today. Neither was Mississippi State’s exactly three years ago. State fixed that. Ole Miss had better do the same, or it will be permanently stuck in the realm of irrevelancy it has occupied for some time.

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Forward Together raises $44 million in just under four months

November 6th, 2011 No comments

Not much has gone right recently for the Ole Miss athletic department.

The Forward Together Campaign is an exception.

The campaign to raise money for new athletic facilities and to expand and improve existing ones kicked off Aug. 9. As of Nov. 1, it had raised $43.8 million of its overall $150 million goal.

That’s a striking contrast to the most important measuring stick for Southeastern Conference athletic departments — the football team.

A cloud that settled over the football program in September 2010 with an overtime loss to lower-division Jacksonville State has lingered. The Rebels are 2-6 (0-5 in the SEC) and have explored various methods of implosion. There were maulings administered by Vanderbilt and Alabama. There were opportunities blown against BYU, Auburn and Arkansas.

A group of folks called Forward Rebels have taken their discontent to the pages of daily newspapers, using full-page ads to promote wholesale changes within the athletic department. Fundraising in that environment is less than ideal. But by any measure, Forward Together’s first four months have been successful.

“I didn’t (expect to hit the $44 million mark by Nov. 1), and I obviously didn’t know when we started that our football season would go the way it has,” said Danny White, executive director of the UMAA Foundation, Ole Miss’ private fundraising arm that is spearheading Forward Together. “That even further amazes me on how successful it’s been.”

White attributes that to a couple things. The first is the funding model that allows for 80 percent of a Capital Gift Agreement to qualify as a tax deduction. A CGA acts as a traditional seat license, and would secure a donor’s seats in the new club level of Vaught-Hemingway’s south end zone or in one of the new suites. The expansion of the stadium’s south end zone is part of the campaign’s $50 million second phase, which also includes upgrades for the Gillom Center that serves several women’s sports. The $100 million first phase would fund a new basketball arena and renovations to existing parts of the football stadium.

“The CGA is like a gift toward priority seating,” White said. “We were looking at the professional model with a seat license, for a lot of reasons. From a funding standpoint, that gives us the reassurance as far as cash flow goes to deal with debt service when we’re talking about projects that are this size. Another thing, we wanted to give our fans the opportunity to have some ownership over their seats, and be able to transfer them and keep them in their family. A lot of donors in our premium areas have asked about that for a while.

“That’s kind of how we came up with the model,” White continued. “We changed it from a seat license to the CGA. It’s more than just changing the name. The structure is set up a little bit differently. It’s set up like a gift and as a pledge because we really wanted to protect tax deductibility for our donors.”

The next major deadline for the campaign is Jan. 6, when the eligibility for early reward premium seating related to the CGAs expires. Putting a timeline on the completion of the $150 million goal will be easier afterward, White said, because how much money is pledged on Jan. 6 will determine when UMAA actually starts to sell the seats. That’s when the $43.8 million that right now is only a pledge will start turning into cash on hand. “We have very strict rules on what we count,” White said. “We don’t book anything that’s not a signed commitment.”

What has also driven the early success of Forward Together is fan emotion, White said. “We can talk about funding models and other approaches, but the ultimate reason this thing has been so successful is Ole Miss donors and alumni are very generous and obviously very passionate about this athletic department.”

That passion has manifested itself, too, with Forward Rebels’ newspaper ads that for the most part have called for athletic director Pete Boone’s ouster. There is no phone number listed on Forward Rebels’ website. Multiple electronic messages seeking comment went unreturned last week.

“We hear about it all the time,” White said of the negative energy around the football program. “This is not a fun time for anybody that loves Ole Miss. There’s a reason the top programs win as consistently as they do. The schools that have the most money from an operating budget standpoint and raise the most money on an annual basis, they win the most. If we want to compete at that level, we have to continue to build our resource base.”

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Want a job at Toyota? Get in line

November 4th, 2011 No comments

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security announced Friday afternoon that 41,000 people (!) have applied for the roughly 2,000 jobs that will be available at the Toyota plant in Blue Springs. The agency started taking applications in August 2010.

The facility will roll the first Corolla off the assembly line Nov. 17 in a ceremony.

Folks from every county in Mississippi and 44 states across the U.S. sent in their applications. All the production jobs have been filled, but the company is still accepting applications for maintenance jobs.

While 38,000 people will be disappointed to learn they won’t be working for Toyota, you’re not totally out of luck if you live in North Mississippi. The MDES is still accepting applications for Schultz Extruded Products, a pipe manufacturing plant in Tunica; and for KiOR, the biofuel facility in Columbus. The agency will soon start accepting applications for the Winchester firearms facility in Oxford. Combined, those projects represent a touch more than the job count for Toyota.

Here’s the full release from the MDES:

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security has collected more than 41,000 applications for Toyota’s plant near Tupelo.

Toyota attracted applications from all 82 Mississippi counties, 44 other states and Puerto Rico.

The plant is expected to employ about 2,000.

Working through the MDES website, Toyota continues accepting applications for maintenance jobs at the Blue Springs plant. Toyota is no longer accepting applications for production jobs at the plant.

“We’ve collected applications from every corner of the state and I’m sure we’ll continue to draw more,” MDES Deputy Executive Director Stan McMorris said.

“This has been a highly successful partnership with Toyota,” MDES Executive Director Les Range said. “People were able to apply for these jobs from any computer with Internet access — whether that was at home, school or in our WIN Job Centers.”

In August 2010, MDES began collecting online applications for Toyota. The agency has maintained an online jobs database for years, but the partnership with Toyota is among the agency’s early ventures into allowing customers to complete job applications online.

“Making it easier to apply for more jobs, we’re expanding our online job-application offerings,” Range said. “As with our other services, accepting online applications for companies is a service we offer at no charge to businesses and job seekers.

“Job seekers can also apply for these jobs by calling 888-844-3577,” Range added.

MDES now is accepting online applications from Schulz Xtruded Products LP and Kior Inc. The agency soon will begin accepting online applications for Winchester Rimfire and others.

Categories: Manufacturing, News Tags:

Moran opposes all three ballot initiatives

October 24th, 2011 No comments

Ocean Springs mayor and Democratic candidate for state treasurer Connie Moran was the speaker at Monday’s Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

Moran’s presentation and the Q&A that followed was among the shortest I can remember at the monthly Stennis meetings, so let’s just hit some highlights.

Moran said she would vote no on all three of the ballot initiatives that will appear on next month’s ballot. She said Alabama’s putting together 30 parcels of land in two weeks for its Mercedez-Benz plant is proof that the ability to use eminent domain for private enterprise is the “number one tool” for landing mega projects. Mississippi was considered for the plant.

“Was that worth it? Absolutely,” Moran said of Alabama’s efforts, which included the use of eminent domain. “Would I want to use that to build a golf course? No. But for major investment, yes.”

Moran cited what she called the “unintended consequences” of the Personhood Initiative among her reasons for opposing it. She made it a point to say that she was pro-life, but supported the use of abortion in cases of rape and incest.

As for the Voter ID Initiative, Moran said she was worried it could potentially disenfranchise elderly voters, particularly those who no longer drive and have no need to keep a driver’s license.

Moran also opposes converting the PERS system into a 401 (k)-style format, an idea that has emerged after Gov. Haley Barbour appointed a commission to study the state’s retirement system. She added that the annual cost-of-living adjustment retirees get — commonly called “the 13th check” — should be held harmless in any sort of discussion of PERS reform.

Moran’s opponent, Republican Lynn Fitch, did not attend, citing a scheduling conflict.

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Hearing provides few insights over proposed rail abandonment

October 23rd, 2011 No comments

A joint hearing of the House and Senate Transportation committees last week provided a few answers from the company that has filed to abandon a stretch of railroad from Grenada to Canton.

But it did nothing to assuage some of the concern from officials of affected communities.

Grenada Railway filed in late September with the federal Surface Transportation Board a request to abandon the 80-mile line it purchased from CN in 2009. Since then, waves of protests have followed, led by the Mississippi Department of Transportation and local economic development offices. Their grievances have carried the same warning: Eliminating rail service will be detrimental both to current businesses and to future economic development prospects.

Grenada Railway said in its initial filing that the short line lost about $100,000 in 2010, and had lost almost that much in the first six months of this year.

“We’ve made our best faith effort to operate these businesses at a profit,” Scott Leavenway, an attorney who represents the company, said at last week’s hearing at the Capitol.

Leavenway said to turn an acceptable profit on the line, its traffic count needs to average 35 cars per mile per year. It hasn’t come close to that, averaging 3.5 cars per mile in 2010, and falling to about 2 cars per mile in the first six months of this year.

“And the prospects are worse for the rest of the year,” he said.

On top of that, two of the bridges on the line are in major disrepair and carry nearly a $1 million price tag to fix.

Things do look better on the northern end of the rail, which runs from Grenada to Southaven and is not slated for abandonment. Leavenway said traffic this year is up 22 percent from last year.

Keeping the northern portion from meeting the same fate has been the goal of folks like Larry Hart, the Water Valley Mayor.

Hart said in a letter to the STB in early October that the closure of the northern line would cut off his town from shipping to the south via rail. Rail freight would have to be shipped north to Memphis, and then south. He said at the hearing last week that three counties have hearings pending that would advance the process of forming a rail authority, which could theoretically purchase the line if Grenada Railway ever decided to abandon it. “We’re well down that road,” he said.

Steve Zea, president of the Kosciusko-Attala Development Corp. said in a STB filing that the line slated for abandonment connects to another short line rail that serves as the only rail service in Kosciusko.

“We currently have a major energy site that has several active prospects that would depend on this rail,” he wrote.

He wrote further the rail’s abandonment “would put this region of Mississippi at a huge disadvantage when competing for economic development projects and overall job creation.”

Pablo Diaz, of the Grenada County Economic Development District, said in his STB filing that nine companies currently use the rail, using nearly 4,000 cars per year. Those companies, he said, have pledged to add 2,000 more cars in the next three years. Some of those companies, he wrote, have been forced because of rate increases to use other rail routes for distribution, or have started shipping their products via truck.

These companies employ 1,895 people. If the rail were abandoned, at least 500 of those jobs would be lost.

One of the companies that uses the rail is Newly Weds Foods in Horn Lake. Plant manager James Rone told the STB in an October notice of opposition that his company is currently being charged rates that are three and four times higher than CN charged when it owned the track. The portion of rail he connects to isn’t slated for abandonment, but he’s worried that it eventually could be.

“My plant has 300 employees and we are in fierce competition from other plants in neighboring states –which have a competitive advantage by having viable rail service,” he wrote.

Leavenway insisted at last week’s hearing that only the southern end of the line is financially weak enough to meet the company’s standards for abandonment. He said that the company had been close a few times to reaching a deal for state assistance via the Mississippi Railroad Improvement Fund, but that had never materialized. The fund currently has $5 million worth of bonds that are not yet issued, said Mississippi Development Authority chief financial officer Kathy Ghelston.

“And we’ve had about $19 million worth of requests,” she said. The MDA will most likely wait until MDOT completes a rail study before deciding how to spend the money, she said, adding that a one-to-one match from whatever rail company receives the funds is the only way it can work.

Grenada, Ghelston said at the hearing, is currently marketing one of the last megasites in the state under the promise that it will have rail access.

Leavenway said Grenada Railway would be willing to construct a lift station, which allows for cargo to be loaded and unloaded from trains to trucks, at Grenada as part of its plans to abandon the Grenada to Canton line.

“This is anything but a staged abandonment,” he said of fears that the northern line would eventually be targeted. “We’d be much smarter to abandon the whole thing at once.”

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