Chinese Co. solidifies stake in Amory steel mill

September 15th, 2010 No comments

What was already official became officially official yesterday in China.

Anshang, a partially state-owned Chinese steel company, finalized an agreement with Steel Development Corp. to purchase a 14 percent stake in SDC’s facility in Amory that will manufacture rebar.

Magnolia Marketplace wrote a story two months ago about some of the angst this was causing members of the Congressional Steel Caucus. They were concerned this move was part of a Chinese plan to manipulate the U.S. steel industry from within, and wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asking him to investigate the matter. The only thing new out of yesterday’s announcement is the 14 percent number. Originally, an SDC spokesman confirmed to the Mississippi Business Journal that Anshang would purchase a  “less than 20 percent stake” in the mill.

Neither Cong. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, who represents Amory as part of the 1st District, nor his general election opponent, Tupelo Republican Alan Nunnelee, had much of a problem with the Chinese investment when we spoke to them in early July. Neither did State Rep. Jimmy Puckett, D-Amory. They all said the area could use the 175 jobs SDC planned to provide once the facility is open. Childers expressed the most concern of the three, saying at one point in his interview with us that he didn’t want to “sell us out to Red China.” Nunnelee was probably the least bothered, countering that the Steel Caucus, whose members are mostly from the Rust Belt, might be a little jealous. “Sounds to me like it’s people trying to meddle in Mississippi’s business,” he said in early July.

At that time, there was no target date for the mill’s opening. That’s still the case.

To go with its 14 percent stake, Anshang will provide some of the technology the mill uses to make rebar, and it will also have a seat on SDC’s board.

Eminent domain sure to be hot campaign topic

September 14th, 2010 25 comments

Mississippi Farm Bureau President David Waide has told a couple Mississippi media outlets the past few days that supporters of an eminent domain initiative are getting really close to gathering enough signatures to put the issue on the 2011 ballot.

With Waide telling a newspaper in Tupelo that enough signatures have been gleaned from three of the four required Congressional districts, it would be a surprise at this point if organizers did not meet the Oct. 6 deadline to submit their documents to the secretary of state’s office.

The notion that government can use eminent domain to benefit a private enterprise is one of the most contentious political issues Magnolia Marketplace has covered. It is a near certainty that it will be a major talking point for statewide candidates next year.

The most interesting dynamic will likely play out on the Republican side of the field. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who will run for governor in 2011, did not strongly commit one way or another on the issue during the 2009 session, when the Senate narrowly upheld Gov. Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have restricted the use of eminent domain to projects of public interest, like roads and utilities. It would have been really interesting if the sustain/override vote in the Senate would have required Bryant to break a tie. He’s probably glad it didn’t.

Barbour spent many hours and a lot of energy lobbying lawmakers after he vetoed the legislation, which originally passed both chambers easily. It didn’t garner a single nay in the Senate, clearing that body 52-0. The crux of Barbour’s argument was that things like Toyota and Nissan would not be here if the state were not allowed to use eminent domain during the development of each.

Waide told the Mississippi Business Journal earlier in the summer that he expected enough signatures to arrive some time in September, and that timeline looks like it will be met. Voters will most likely decide the issue next fall. This is one of those issues where candidates will have to go all in or all out. There is no comfortable middle ground. The landowners’ rights lobby and economic development groups both have deep pockets and big voting blocs. Alienating either is never a good campaign strategy, so candidates have a tough decision to make.

New round of spill finger-pointing begins

September 8th, 2010 10 comments

British Petroleum released yesterday a report related to the oil spill. It follows BP’s internal investigation into the how and why behind the disaster.

BP took some of the blame, but not all of it. Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded and sank, is furious because BP said it was partly responsible for the mess. Several other companies, including Halliburton, aren’t very happy either, for similar reasons. You can read the report here, but you better block off the rest of the day, because it’s almost 200 pages long.

The litigation related to the spill  is just getting started, and will most likely last well into the next decade. So it’s not surprising that the companies who had a part in the construction and operation of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the Macondo Well are pointing fingers. It’s financial preservation.

Categories: Gulf Coast oil spill, News Tags:

Mississippi GOP endorses Barnes

September 7th, 2010 No comments

The Mississippi Republican Party announced this morning that it will endorse state Court of Appeals Judge Donna Barnes in this fall’s election for the right to represent North Mississippi on the appellate court.

There’s nothing unexpected about the endorsement. Barnes, of Tupelo, was appointed to the Court six years ago by Gov. Haley Barbour. She ran unopposed in 2006.

Barnes has an opponent this time around. Kelly Mims, also of Tupelo, is a veteran of Opertion Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to his campaign website. (View Barnes’ campaign website here.)

Magnolia Marketplace made it a point Saturday in the Grove to gauge the presence of both candidates. Barnes had a large banner hanging from one tent. We didn’t see anything with Mims’ name on it. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything. We just didn’t see it. And what we saw on the turf at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, we’d just as soon forget.

The Viking has had a good couple weeks (updated)

September 3rd, 2010 No comments

Opinions and observations to kick off the long weekend …

Randy Watkins, Viking Classic boss, fine Ole Miss man and one of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite people, had a double-shot of good news recently.

First, the PGA Tour announced in late August that it was renewing The Viking Classic for an additional year, guaranteeing the tournament would be played at Annandale in Madison at least through 2011. We did a story earlier in the summer about the contract between the Tour and the Viking expiring after this year, and most everybody we talked to was optimistic that the relationship between the two would continue. So while it’s  not much of a surprise, it still has to be a relief for Watkins and other Viking organizers.

Then, earlier this week, Viking Range announced that Emeril Lagasse would do two cooking demonstrations at the tournament. The Viking has had some fairly famous celebrity chefs at past tournaments, but none with the name recognition and drawing power of Emeril. You can purchase tickets for the tournament and/or Emeril’s cooking demos at vikingclassic.com. If you plan to be in town the last weekend of September, you should do just that.

The Mississippi Department of Employment Security announced late yesterday afternoon that it had received its 10,000th application related to the Toyota plant in Blue Springs. The agency says 8,700 of those 10,000 are from Mississippians. The rest come from 36 states across the U.S. MDES is helping Toyota fill 1,350 of the 2,000 jobs at the facility, so some HR person has a pile of paper work on their desk, and it’s only getting bigger. Let’s hope they move faster — and exercise a little more common sense — than the NCAA did and does.

Enjoy your Labor Day, and be safe.

URGENT UPDATE: Remember what we said about the NCAA in the above paragraph? Disregard. Jeremiah Masoli can play football for Ole Miss this year. The NCAA is a fair-minded, sense-driven organization.

Want to work at Toyota? Get in line

September 1st, 2010 1 comment

Nine days ago, when Toyota and Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Development Authority released the protocol the car company would use to hire its production workers at Blue Springs, the initial response from job-seekers was quick and heavy.

That first day, more than 600 folks filled out applications. The pace has obviously quickened.

Through Monday, 8,736 applications have been made for the 1,350 jobs the Mississippi Department of Employment Security is helping Toyota fill. That’s according to the MDES.

The average number of applications made per day the first week is 1,248.

That’s serious interest, and goes to show that Northeast Mississippi sure could use the jobs.

Despite weather, The Depot thrives

August 30th, 2010 No comments

The Depot Memorial charity golf tournament was rained out this weekend.

That’s about the only thing that went wrong.

Held at Windance Golf Club in Gulfport, and named after the former bar by the railroad tracks, The Depot has become a popular draw in its five years. This was Magnolia Marketplace’s second year to participate in it.

The rainy weather didn’t completely kill the tournament. A putting contest broke out in the Windance clubhouse, with a coffee mug serving as the cup. The door prizes were still given away, and the food and beverages got consumed. Depot organizers said 80 golfers showed up.

Its obligations to its participants met, The Depot still managed to fulfill its most important promise: benefitting Feed My Sheep, a faith-based organization that provides physical and spiritual nourishment to the Coast’s needy.

Geoffrey Knesal, an assistant project manager for Roy Anderson Corp. and one of The Depot’s organizers, said earlier today that the tournament set a record for contributions, and donated $10,000 to Feed My Sheep.

“We are very excited about the donation we’re able to make to a very worthy charity down here on the coast,” Knesal said. “We received nothing but positive feedback from all of the participants and can’t wait to start planning for next year.”

Lord willing, Magnolia Marketplace will be there. The Depot has become one of our favorite handful of events of the calendar year, and we wouldn’t miss it.

Categories: News Tags:

Rumors swirling about biofuel location(s) (Updated)

August 25th, 2010 1 comment

We know for sure that the economic development project lawmakers will most likely approve $50 million in incentives for Friday will have multiple locations.

True to the form he has established in his six and a half years in the Governor’s Mansion, Gov. Haley Barbour is not telling anybody for sure where those locations will be until he’s absolutely ready to do so.

Some checking with folks this morning has yielded two possibilities: D’Iberville and Greenville. One person Magnolia Marketplace spoke to a few minutes ago seems to think D’Iberville is not one of the locations, even though that city is included in the special session call in a separate item from the biofuel project. City leaders in D’Iberville are asking the Legislator for permission to acquire property for commercial development, but no details are given about what manner of development that is.

The fact that it’s separate from the item dealing with the biofuel project, said our source, is significant. “If D’Iberville were one of the places that’s going to get this thing, it would have been included in the nebolous general call,” they said, referring to the location detail-free description of the incentive package lawmakers will consider.

Conversations with folks about Greenville as a possibility reinforce that notion, considering Greenville has more land to offer as one of the locations and sits adjacent to the Mississippi River. Whether the proximity to the River is enough to overcome D’Iberville’s proximity to the Gulf of Mexico is anybody’s guess.

Or maybe Greenville and D’Iberville will both be shut out of the biofuel sweepstakes. We’ll just have to wait and see.

UPDATED: Apparently heeding our cry (but probably not), Barbour just announced via press release that he will discuss the project with the media Thursday at 2 p.m. We’ll know everything we need and want to know then.

Spectrum ends pursuit of SEC Baseball Tournament

August 25th, 2010 1 comment

We meant to get to this yesterday, but Gov. Haley Barbour releasing the special session call took up most of the afternoon.

Spectrum Events, a division of Spectrum Capital and the outfit that was pursuing the SEC Baseball Tournament for Trustmark Park in Pearl, announced on its Twitter page that it was dropping its bid for the Tournament.

The reason given was that Trustmark Park did not meet the minimum seating requirement of 10,000. Magnolia Marketplace had spent a lot of time researching the story we did on Spectrum’s pursuit of the Tournament a few weeks ago, and in our conversations with the SEC, a minimum seating requirement never came up.

So we called Craig Mattox, the SEC’s associate commissioner for championships, this morning and asked him if such a thing existed. It does not.

“That’s inaccurate for (Spectrum) to say that,” Mattox said.

Mattox did say that preference would be given to stadiums that could seat at least 10,000 people, but a capacity less than that would not automatically preclude it from consideration.

“We wouldn’t have gotten three or four bids (with a capacity minimum),” Mattox said. “We would have hurt ourselves if we did that.”

When we first spoke with Mattox for the original story, he said Mississippi’s flag — specifically, the Confederate emblem in the upper left corner — would be a factor when it came time to weigh Trustmark Park’s virtues. He even said that if came down to Pearl and another city, with all things being equal, the flag would make the SEC’s decision for it, in favor of Pearl’s competition.

Whether that had anything to do with Spectrum’s decision is anybody’s guess. We have a message in to Spectrum. When we hear back, we’ll post their response.

Categories: News Tags:

Barbour makes the call: It’s a biofuel company

August 24th, 2010 4 comments

Gov. Haley Barbour has issued the call for Friday’s special session, so let’s get right to it:

Among other things, Barbour will ask lawmakers to issue $45 million in general obligation bonds to a company that will produce renewable crude oil using biomass harvested here in Mississippi.

Biomass is a natural material used to produce energy. It can range from wood chips to grass to animal waste.

Barbour does not name the company or any of its locations — he said last week it would have multiple facilities — in the call, so we’ll just have to wait until Friday to learn those particulars.

To go with the $45 million that will defray some of the construction costs and equipment purchases, lawmakers will be asked to issue an additional $4 million in GOBs that will pay for workforce training related to the project, a program that will be administered by the Mississippi Development Authority. The actual training will be done by Mississippi’s colleges and universities and community colleges.

We’re still not done. Barbour also wants an additional $1 million in GOBs to fund research on biomass usage in the production of renewable crude oil at the Sustainable Energy Research Center at Mississippi State.

All told, that represents a $50 million investment by the state in the $500 million project that is expected to create 1,000 jobs.

Also included in the call is an authorization that will allow the City of D’Iberville to acquire property for development, and an authorization allowing DeSoto County to build a new jail.

It all gets started Friday at 10 a.m.