District at Eastover hits another snag

April 2nd, 2010 2 comments

We’ve been following the District at Eastover, a mixed-use project Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to build on the site of the Old Blind School, for six months now.

To be honest, the project seems cursed. Duckworth and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann reached an impasse late last year in their negotiations to hammer out a lease deal. Then, the Legislature tweaked the legislation governing the parameters of the project to allow the state to sell the land instead of lease it. Duckworth said at the time that he couldn’t pursue the project unless he could buy the land.

So things finally started looking like they were gathering momentum until yesterday afterrnoon, when Gov. Haley Barbour vetoed the bill allowing the sale of the land.

“Without the authority to lease the property, the bill would have essentially required the sale of the property at a time when commercial property prices are at historic lows,” Barbour said in his veto message.

Barbour also wants a provision inserted into the bill that would give the state the option of leasing the land, instead of allowing it only to sell it. He also took issue with the clause that would have given the state the right to buy back the land after 10  years if conditions of the development had not been met. “But the bill did not specify the purchase price,” Barbour said. “It is not clear to me whether the repurchase price would account for any improvements made to the property, which would certainly deter potential buyers and lenders alike from investing and developing this property,” Barbour continued.

On the bright side, Barbour said in his veto message that he would include revamped legislation in a special session, if necessary, when the Legislature returns April 20 to finalize a budget for fiscal year 2011.

When this project first hit our radar last fall, it seemed like a win-win. The Old Blind school sits in the middle of one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the state — Eastover — and is not generating any revenue. Because of that, Magnolia Marketplace was convinced a deal would emerge quickly. But valuable land is still being wasted. Maybe there’s still some political paranoia over the state entering into an agreement — whether it’s a lease or sell — with a private party after the disaster of the beef plant. What is certain is the state has a chance to get a much bigger return off the land than what it’s getting now, which is nothing.

This makes entirely too much sense not to get done.

Google celebrates April Fool’s Day with nod to broadband competition

April 1st, 2010 2 comments

Magnolia Marketplace will have a story in next week’s MBJ about how three Mississippi cities — that we were able to confirm — have jumped into the race to become a test site for Google’s 1GBS Internet program.

Without spoiling the story, a few cities that have entered the competition have done some pretty outrageous things to land on Google’s radar. One of the more noticeable stunts came on March 1, when Topeka, Kan., changed its name for the day to Google, Kan.

Lo and behold, we called up Google this morning, and in the spot just to the left of the search bar, where it usually says “Google,” it read “Topeka.” No doubt the folks in the real Topeka are high-fiving each other over that one.

Categories: News Tags:

MC to host automotive symposium

March 31st, 2010 34 comments

Mississippi’s automotive industry has had quite a bit of news recently. Toyota is still navigating the recall mess, and Nissan just affirmed plans to start producing light commercial vehicles at its facility in Canton, starting this fall.

Those two topics — and the future of Toyota’s Blue Springs facility — will likely be front and center April 16 at the Mississippi College School of Law in Downtown Jackson. The school will hold an automotive symposium from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the Student Center.

Some familiar names and faces are scheduled to appear. They include Gov. Haley Barbour; David Copenhaver, vice president of Toyota Manufacturing, Mississippi; Jim Barksdale; Paul Johnson, director of the Toyota project at the Mississippi Development Authority; and Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson.

J. Larry Lee, professor of law at MC, will moderate the event.

According to a press release from the school, the symposium and its participants will “assess the risks and opportunities that will define the future of the automotive industry,” a sector government and economic development officials hope will be a significant part of the Mississippi’s economy moving forward.

Mark your calendar. It’s pretty rare to get a group like this in the same room, so there should be some pretty interesting conversation.

Everybody’s working for the weekend

March 26th, 2010 1 comment

Loverboy probably didn’t have the Mississippi Legislature on their minds when the band was performing their ’80s rock anthem, “Working for the Weekend.”

But that’s exactly what lawmakers will spend their weekend doing, now that the House and Senate have agreed to suspend the session until late April. Before that happens, bond bills and other deadline-restricted legislation has to clear, hence the extended work week.

The weekend workout at the Capitol is just one of the two hot political stories that will unfold over the next few days. Gov. Haley Barbour and Attorney General Jim Hood are currently in a stare-down over Barbour’s desire to join the 14 other states in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the healthcare reform legislation President Obama signed earlier this week.

Hood told Barbour yesterday that he has to study the issues of the case a little further before he makes a decision about moving forward — or not moving forward — with the litigation. Barbour has plans to hire outside counsel to do it for him if Hood continues to balk. The two  have tied up in the past, and neither are much of a mind to blink, so this could get really good really fast. A lot of conservative Democrats — including Mississippi’s Travis Childers — voted against the healthcare legislation, so it’s not necessarily a slam dunk that Hood will refuse to participate in the lawsuit. On the other hand, Hood could just be stalling in the name of further study while he weighs his options. Throw in the fact that Hood has already said that Barbour is legally barred from filing the complaint on his own, and there’s a political brawl just waiting to happen. It’ll all shake out soon.

Until then, have a rocking weekend.

Categories: Haley Barbour, Jim Hood, News, Politics Tags:

Legislature to adjourn this week minus a budget? And what about those new Nissans?

March 22nd, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace has been making the rounds of the Capitol sources this morning, and we’ve got an interesting nugget to pass along: There are strong expectations that the Legislature will adjourn this week without a budget.

Reason being: The state still needs more information from the federal government regarding Medicaid, and how the state will have to adjust to the new FMAP rules. So the plan is to send lawmakers home while all that is ironed out. Once it is, the Legislature will gavel back into session and hammer out a spending plan for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1.

The same thing last session kept lawmakers at the Capitol literally until the 11th hour. A budget deal wasn’t reached until minutes before the new fiscal year started. There was a significant hue and cry earlier this session to make sure that didn’t happen again. A giant leap toward a repeat of last year appears ready to happen, though.

Dan Turner, spokesman for Gov. Haley Barbour, would not confirm the rumors but did say such a move “wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.”

So stay tuned on that front.

Shifting gears, Nissan will hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon to provide an update to its $118 million expansion and restructuring that will make way for production of light commercial vehicles. The LCVs are scheduled to hit the market this fall, once the 2011 model year starts. Magnolia Marketplace wrote a story about this very thing two weeks ago, and the company said then that everything was on track. Wednesday should fill in some of the gaps. We’ll have the particulars once it’s over.

The broken budget record is still spinning

March 17th, 2010 No comments

Gov. Haley Barbour announced today that an additional $41 million was disappearing from the state’s budget for fiscal year 2010 because of spiraling state revenue collections.

Since the budget year started last July, $499.1 million has been cut.

“Hopefully we’re making the last cuts of the year,” Barbour said.

The latest round of cuts comes just a few hours after the Joint Legislative Budget Committee lowered  the revenue estimate for FY2010 and FY2011. FY10’s figure was reduced to $4.43 billion, and FY2011 was set at $4.45 billion.

Barbour said he was “skeptical” revenue in FY2011 would reach $4.45 billion. Legislators are crafting that plan now.

Barbour signaled his opposition to any budget that comes to him from the Legislature that would waive the stipulation, commonly called the “2 percent rule,” that sets aside 2 percent of appropriations for the rainy day fund. Legislation that violates the 2 percent rule, Barbour said, can expect his veto.

Aside from the state’s dismal fiscal situation, Barbour touched on a few other topics. Among them:

• The healthcare bill President Obama hopes to pass this week would be “very bad for Mississippi,” he said. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to pass the bill without a vote wasn’t very popular with Barbour, either. “That’s mind-boggling to me,” he said.

• He urged the House to pass the reauthorization for the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. If the agency is reauthorized by June 30, those currently drawing unemployment will no longer do so. Barbour dropped strong hints that he would call a special session if lawmakers end the regular session without reauthorizing the agency.

• We asked Barbour what was next for The Aerospace Alliance, a four-state consortium that seeks to expand the Gulf South’s aerospace industry, which suffered its first big loss last week when Northrop Grumman/EADS pulled out of the KC-X Tanker program. He said some pretty interesting things, which we’ll chronicle in a story in next week’s MBJ.

Let the Madness begin

March 15th, 2010 No comments

Conversation in offices around the state have likely, at some point, turned to Mississippi State’s devastating loss to Kentucky yesterday in the championship game of the SEC Tournament, and to March Madness as a whole.

That’s where we come in. We’re working on a story about productivity during March Madness. Some bosses choose to allow their employees some slack when it comes to watching the games online, managing their office pools, brackets, etc., and some don’t. If you’re a boss, which category do you fall in? What influences your decision? Does your office have an annual March Madness tradition? Are you starting one?

Bosses and employees, please email me at clay.chandler@msbusiness.com. I’d like to talk to you for the story. Good stories make good reading, so if you have a take, get in touch, and the story will appear in next week’s MBJ.

Until then, happy bracketing.

Categories: News Tags:

Report: Northrop Grumman/EADS will exit tanker bid

March 8th, 2010 2 comments

The Seattle Times is reporting that Northrop Grumman and its partner European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. will pull out of the race for the $35 billion contract to supply the Air Force with a new fleet of refueling tankers.

The paper cites an anonymous source who says the official announcement will come after the stock market closes this afternoon.

There had been rumors that Boeing would eventually have the competition to itself after the Pentagon released the final request for proposals Feb. 24.

For the ST’s full report, click here.

Guns bill dies; competing Eastover legislation still alive

March 3rd, 2010 No comments

Yesterday was a major deadline for legislation at the Capitol, with bills that have already cleared one chamber needing to make it out of committee or die until next session.

Senate Bill 2153, which would have allowed concealed weapon permit holders to carry their firearms into public parks, unsecured public buildings and bars and restaurants — provided owners chose to allow it — died in the House Judiciary B Committee.

Magnolia Marketplace has a story about the legislation in this week’s MBJ. The restaurant owners we talked to were wary, to say the least, of allowing handguns into their buildings. Andy Wilson, who has Underground 119 in Downtown Jackson, was the most adamant, saying the legislation reminded him of the Wild West days when cowboys packed their pistols in swinging-door saloons.

Although the issue is dead for this session, look for it to appear next year. The National Rifle Association, one of the most powerful lobbies in politics, has made this legislation a priority.

The two bills that deal with the Old Blind School property, which Jackson developer Ted Duckworth wants to turn into a mixed-use development, are still active. SB 3097, authored by Jack Gordon, would authorize the state to lease the property for development. Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, has authored House Bill 637, which calls for the state to sell the property to a developer with conditions attached that would allow the state to take it back if those conditions were not met.

We had a story about the competing pieces of legislation about a month ago, in which we learned that Duckworth would most likely pull out of the project if the state insisted on leasing the property instead of selling it. With both the lease and sell bills still alive, Duckworth’s future involvement would seem to be still very much up in the air.

Categories: Economic development, News, Politics Tags:

Toyota reports February sales

March 2nd, 2010 No comments

Toyota has just released its sales figures for the month of February. There is some pretty good and some really bad in the numbers.

The really bad:

Overall sales of Toyotas — excluding Lexus and Scion — for February came in at 100,027 vehicles. That represents a decrease of 8.7 percent from last February.

The Corolla compact and the mid-size Camry and Camry Hybrid were the company’s best-sellers last month. About 17,000 new Corollas rolled off car lots; the Camry and Camry Hybrid combined to sell about 16,500 units.

To go with the foundering automotive market, Toyota had to expect some sales-related fallout from the recall mess the company has been fighting since the calendar turned to 2010.

The decline is magnified by the strong showings General Motors and Ford both posted earlier today. Ford sales increased a whopping 43 percent; GM’s jumped 12 percent.

The good news is that Lexus sales were up 4.5 percent in February 2010, compared with February 2009. The Tacoma mid-size pickup also saw its sales jump almost 6 percent.

What’s even better for Mississippi, where the company maintains it will eventually build the Prius Hybrid, is that sales of the vehicle this past February (7,968 units) were up 10.2 percent from the same period last year.

You can view the entire sales breakdown here.