10-Day forecast: Football

August 24th, 2010 1 comment

Magnolia Marketplace is a weather fanatic.

High on the rotation of websites we visit daily is weather.com; lately, it’s been nothing but bad news. Heat. Humidity. Extreme amounts of both.

Today’s 10-day forecast offers precious relief, though. The temperatures will still surge into the 90s, but the humidity will supposedly loosen up. The really good news, though, comes at the end of the latest 10-day outlook.

Sept. 2′s conditions will be much like the nine days before it — 90-something for a high and 70-something for a low, with a lot of sunshine and little chance of rain.

But Sept. 2 has something no other date does — the right to call itself college football’s Opening Day. If calendar days could win the equivalent of a Heisman, Sept. 2 would be the odds-on favorite.

Southern Mississippi will play at South Carolina next Thursday night, Sept. 2. Since this is a business blog, we should probably include some numbers-based analysis of the game. So here you go: Las Vegas has installed the Gamecocks as a 14-point favorite. Not that anybody is paying attention to the point spread (of course not), but that seems too large. Just sayin’.

Congratulations, Sept. 2. You win — before you even arrive — the title of Best Day of the Year So Far.

Categories: Football, News Tags:

Toyota officially kicks off hiring process today

August 23rd, 2010 10 comments

Toyota and Gov. Haley Barbour announced just a few minutes ago that the company has started the process of hiring the 2,000 people who will eventually work at the Blue Springs facility.

The news is not a surprise, considering Toyota and Barbour said that last week they’d  have details about the hiring cycle today.

So here they are:

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi is coordinating the hiring of its workers through the Mississippi Department of Employment Security and the Workforce Investment Network (WIN) Job centers. That includes hourly skilled workers — the folks who will actually build the Toyota Corolla — and the hourly maintenance workers, who will keep the facility in operating shape.

Those interested can apply at www.mdes.ms.gov. Once there, click on the “Toyota” link underneath the Access Mississippi Online Services section. You can also peruse a list of the WIN Job Centers across the state at the same place.

Toyota expects to hire about 1,000 workers from the WIN Job Centers. The first Corollas are scheduled to come off the assembly line next fall.

Finally, special session confirmation (Updated)

August 20th, 2010 No comments

A few weeks ago, Magnolia Marketplace spent most of a Friday chasing a rumor that Gov. Haley Barbour was set to call a special session for Aug. 13, in which lawmakers would consider incentive packages for an economic development project.

The rumor turned out to be partially right.

In a press release that landed in our inbox minutes ago, Barbour confirmed that he will summon the Legislature to the Capitol next Friday, Aug. 27, to consider an inventive package for a $500 million project.

According to the release, whatever company is asking for the incentives will have locations across the state, and will provide $85 million in wages and direct purchases and supply 1,000 direct and indirect jobs through the company and its suppliers.

“Additional information about the company will be released at a later date,” the release read.

When we were first tracking the rumor, speculation ranged from a project in the Delta to one in Meridian. Theoretically, if the company will have multiple locations in the state, both of those regions could be involved. Or neither of them.

Here’s the press release from Barbour’s office:

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour today announced a special session at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 27, to consider an incentive package for a $500 million economic development project with locations around the state.

The project will bring $85 million in wages and direct Mississippi purchases, as well as 1,000 direct and indirect jobs through the company and the local suppliers. Additional information about the company will be released at a later date.

UPDATE: Just got off the phone with Dan Turner, Barbour’s press secretary, to ask one or two follow-up questions.

The first and most obvious: What’s the name of the company? Turner didn’t blink. “No comment,” he said. No surprise there. Barbour is the master at keeping things close to the vest until he — and only he — is ready to make it official. “We’re sticking to that policy,” Turner said.

Turner did offer somewhat of a hint about what kind of jobs the project will bring. “I think this one is tailor-made as far as jobs that have a long-range future in Mississippi.”

Since he’s been in office, Barbour has said advanced manufacturing jobs are what suits Mississippi best, things like Toyota and aerospace and the steel plants that have cropped up in the Golden Triangle. Turner’s “long-range future” description of this latest deal sure sounds like that.

Water issues inflame old tensions

August 18th, 2010 No comments

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. and Gov. Haley Barbour have engaged in a letter-writing war over the State Bond Commission’s refusal to issue $6 million in bonds to improve the city’s water system.

Twice this year, all or parts of Jackson have gone without water service due to problems with the pipes. In January, a hard freeze left most of the city without for several days. Portable restrooms were placed outside the Capitol for lawmakers in session. The MBJ offices set up temporary shop in a Madison hotel. Earlier this summer, a relatively new water main burst at the main treatment facility, cutting off service for several hours, mainly in the northern part of the city. Magnolia Marketplace’s house was one of the ones affected.

Johnson is miffed that the Bond Commission, of which Barbour is the chairman, voted against the $6 million bond project, even though the Legislature passed it and Barbour signed it as part of an omnibus bond program this past session. Barbour countered that the $6 million alone amounted to a drop in the bucket when it came to the overall cost of repairing and upgrading Jackson’s water infrastructure, and encouraged Johnson to seek a low-interest loan through the Department of Environmental Quality.

This latest conflict raises anew the decades-old tension between Jackson and state government. The majority of Downtown Jackson is made up of state buildings, which pay no property taxes but receive city services.

There have been a few attempts by Jackson officials over the years to institute a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program to help offset some of the costs the city incurs in providing services to those state buildings. They have gotten nowhere. It’s a hard sell for a North Mississippi lawmaker to spend money on something that won’t benefit his constituents.

Budgets at every level of government are shrinking, a symptom of the depression. Lawmakers, especially with an election year coming up, are averse to any kind of new spending that might lead to a tax increase. On the other hand, Jackson is running a budget deficit and could surely use the money.

This water flap will most likely get resolved. If it doesn’t, you can take this to the bank: If and when the water pipes burst this winter, Barbour and Johnson will blame each other. Meanwhile, the rest of us will suffer.

Intuit dropping the ball with switch to Mint

August 16th, 2010 No comments

Intuit, the personal finance software company that has done a lot of good things, is in the middle of doing a bad one.

On Aug. 29, Intuit will shut down Quicken, the software that basically serves as a checkbook on your computer. Taking its place is Mint, which is supposed to serve the same purpose but doesn’t.

There’s no comparison between the two. Quicken is easy. Mint is clumsy. Quicken allows you to post and keep track of recurring expenses. Mint does not. Quicken shows what your real balance is after those recurring expenses. Mint does not.

Quicken is superior. Mint is inferior.

So why is the better product on the way out? I’ve asked Mint’s online support that three times. Each time, I get the canned response full of corporate buzzwords like “efficiency, customer experience” blah blah blah.

My experience with Quicken, over the past few years, has made personal finance probably as pain-free as it can get. The few times I’ve forced myself to use Mint — to get ready for the switch — have been frustrating to the point I get angry and give up. There’s no way to rationalize this. Eliminating Quicken in favor of Mint is total nonsense.

It’s not too late, Intuit. Admit the mistake you’re making. Call off the switch. Better yet, eliminate Mint and keep Quicken.

Doing anything else is corporate stupidity.

Categories: News, Personal finance Tags:

David Hasselhoff — promoting Coast tourism?

August 13th, 2010 4 comments

Observations and opinions to close out the week …

Gov. Haley Barbour announced in a press release this afternoon that the CW Network will air a one-hour special Aug. 27 that will “highlight the resilience and spirit of Gulf Coast residents.”

The timing of the event, designed to promote tourism, is right, considering Aug. 27 is two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and what with the oil spill and everything. Mississippi residents can even appear as extras.

What is curious, though, is the man who will serve as the event’s host — David Hasselhoff.

Knight Rider David Hasselhoff? Yes.

Lifeguard David Hasselhoff? You bet.

Cheeseburger aficionado David Hasselhoff? Yep.

The special will air from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, which also happens to have a franchise of the hamburger joint Mugshots. Just sayin’.

Moving on, if you’ve read this week’s edition of the MBJ — and if you haven’t, what’s the hold-up? — you’ve read seen the efforts to lure the SEC Baseball Tournament to Trustmark Park in Pearl. Metro Jackson is fighting an uphill battle to land the tournament, for two reasons: The Confederate emblem on the state flag; and the size, or relative lack thereof, of Trustmark Park.

The Southeastern Conference has already said the flag will be a part of its evaulation, and Trustmark Park is the second smallest stadium of any involved in the bidding. Magnolia Marketplace would be surprised — really, really surprised — if the Tournament ended up anywhere other than Memphis. Memphis has made it known for years, basically ever since Autozone Park was built in the late 1990s, that it would like to host the event. With the biggest stadium of all the cities pushing to host, and with hundreds of hotels and restraurants in the area, many within walking distance of the park, it’s our guess that it’s Memphis’ to lose.

The SEC would take a lot of heat if it simply  handed the Tournament to Memphis. Opening it up for bids is probably a way of covering a few tracks.

Political battle lines forming over jobs bill

August 11th, 2010 3 comments

It didn’t take long for Gov. Haley Barbour to express his displeasure over the $26 billion state-aid legislation President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday.

In a press release his office issued Aug. 9, Barbour said the bill would force Mississippi’s budget into a re-write in order for the state to accept the $98 million for public education and $130 million for Medicaid.

The state’s budget for fiscal year 2011 has been set since June. Proponents of the bill claim it will rehire laid off teachers or keep those teetering on the edge of unemployment in the classroom. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, and Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, voted for it. Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, and Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, voted against it. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker both voted against it.

“There is no justification for the federal government hijacking state budgets, but that is exactly what Congress has done,” Barbour said in his statement.

So does that mean Barbour will call lawmakers back to Jackson to reconfigure the budget?

Not necessarily, said Barbour spokesman Dan Turner. The state has the option to decline the education money, or show a “maintenance of effort” to work it into the budget without having to redo the whole thing.

Which is the best option?

“Too soon to say,” Turner said.

The notion of whether to accept one-time federal money for a specific state expense got a lot of political run about a year and a half ago, when the original stimulus bill included for Mississippi $56 million for extended unemployment benefits. Barbour and several other Republican governors refused to take it. Democrats wailed. It’s likely a similar scenario will play out this time around.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics, State revenue Tags:

Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in running for $20,000 grant

August 9th, 2010 No comments

About four years ago, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council moved into the Powerhouse, a stone and brick building on South 14th street in Oxford. It was built in 1928 and once housed the Oxford Electric Co.

Renovated with money from the Mississippi Arts Commission, the City of Oxford and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Powerhouse has become a popular venue for corporate events, wedding receptions, and also hosts arts workshops and seminars. The Powerhouse is currently seeking funding for the completion of its second phase, which will include theater space with new lighting, flooring seating and a stage.

For its efforts to revive the Powerhouse, the YAC has emerged from thousands of applicants and is now one of 41 programs that Tom’s of Maine is considering for a $20,000 grant. Five programs will receive the money.

Tom’s of Maine, a natural personal care product company, is administering the grants as part of its 50 States for Good program.

The YAC is competing with programs from Brooklyn, Seattle and St. Paul, Minn.

“Some of these cities have populations equal almost the entire state of Mississippi,” Wayne Andrews, director of the YAC, said in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal.

You can help the YAC land the grant. Visit this site and vote for the Powerhouse. It’s easy, and it benefits a worthy venture.

So as they say in Chicago, vote early and often.

Categories: News, Ole Miss Tags:

Since when do college athletes need PR firms?

July 29th, 2010 1 comment

We’re not going to rehash the ins and outs of the will-he-or-won’t-he nonsense that has become Ole Miss’ pursuit/non-pursuit/whatever it is of former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. There are plenty of other places you can find that out if you aren’t already informed.

What did catch Magnolia Marketplace’s eye, though, is the news that Masoli has hired this PR firm to represent him in his effort to present himself in a more favorable light.

What?

Even though he currently has no team, Masoli is still (technically) an amateur athlete. When did athletes who are (technically) still amateurs start hiring PR firms to represent them while they look for a (technically) amateur athletic program to play for?

Professional athletes have armies of PR people in their employ. So do corporations big and small. There’s certainly nothing wrong with pro athletes and businesses hiring folks to help shape their public image. It’s smart, actually, to do so.

But bringing one on board in the middle of a crisis sounds all sorts of alarm bells. Toyota did it in the middle of the recall mess, after the company’s response to it had drawn criticism for being too slow or too steeped in denial. BP, after their now-former CEO committed some of the worst PR blunders of the past decade, did the same for a lot of the same reasons.

There aren’t many things Magnolia Marketplace loves more than Ole Miss football. And we have absolutely no control over whether Masoli ends up playing for the Rebels. As of late Thursday afternoon, it seemed for all the world that he would. If/when he takes the field, we hope he’s every bit as good as he’s been the past two years at Oregon. And if he helps the Rebels beat Alabama or LSU or Auburn or Arkansas, we’ll celebrate along with everybody else.

But there’s a reason Masoli and his family deemed it necessary to spend what’s probably a sizable amount of money on a PR firm to basically make people think he’s not as much of a creep as he seemed when he got into all that trouble at Oregon.

It just smells bad.

PR 101: Confront the truth, no matter how ugly it is

July 26th, 2010 No comments

One of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite movies is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” the ’80s flick that makes rebelling against authority look like a whole lot of fun.

In the middle of it, Ferris’s principal, Mr. Rooney, finds himself in an arcade in his search for Ferris and his buddies. Toward the end of the scene, Mr. Rooney is standing in front of a television showing a Cubs game. The second he looks away, Ferris is shown catching a foul ball, coming perilously close to getting busted for playing hooky.

Mr. Rooney didn’t spot Ferris in the stands at Wrigley Field, but what if he had? What if Mr. Rooney’s hunch that Ferris was a school-skipping ne’er do well was proven correct when he saw Ferris, Sloan and Cameron on TV? All three of them would be cooked. Pictures don’t lie.

We were reminded of that classic sequence Friday afternoon while we were working up the story of MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown being arrested early Friday morning at the Beau Rivage and being charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct. (The charges have since been dropped).

When we reached Brown on his cell phone, he confirmed that he had “just left” the Beau Rivage. In one of the weirdest interviews we’ve ever done, Brown flatly denied that he had been arrested and charged with anything. This despite the fact that his mugshot was sitting on my computer screen while I was on the phone with him. Brown was polite. The tone of the interview never got confrontational, but he insisted he hadn’t been arrested. The whole thing was odd.

Fast forward about an hour, after the story had taken up the top spot on msbusiness.com, and other media across the state had picked it up. Brown apparently decided to abandon his denial strategy and start referring questions about the incident to the Beau Rivage.

Why didn’t he do that from the beginning? Did he think that, just because he denied the whole thing, we would just drop the story all together? Especially when we had his mugshot?

If the first rule of public relations is don’t put yourself in bad situations, the second rule is to aggressively confront the truth when you do, no matter how badly you may not want to. Brown broke both of those rules Friday. Pictures don’t lie. People do.

Ferris Bueller, Brown ain’t.

Categories: Butch Brown, MDOT, News, Politics Tags: