Madison native, Ole Miss grad: Boston shutdown ‘eerie’ (Updated with words about Houston Nutt)

April 24th, 2013 No comments

Bob Lynch, 26, is a Madison native and 2008 Ole Miss graduate who is a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston. He’s pursuing a masters degree in international relations. Lynch, who runs the popular Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion, was one of the Mississippians affected by the Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent pursuit of the two suspects that closed Boston and neighboring areas for the better part of two days last week.

He recently participated in an interview with the Mississippi Business Journal.

What part of the Boston area do you live in, and how close is that to where most of the suspects’ interaction with law enforcement took place?

I live in the northwestern part of Cambridge, which is where the suspects are from. More specifically, my house is a few miles northwest of MIT, where the suspects killed a campus police officer and where the older suspect died from wounds suffered in the firefight. The younger suspect (assuming I have the story correct here) then stole a car and drove across Cambridge to the south of my house before heading further southwest to Waterton where there was a firefight before most of Friday’s manhunt began. Waterton borders Cambridge on the southwest, and much of the action there was also just a few miles away from my house.

Take us through the events Thursday night, when authorities first encountered the two brothers. When and how did you notice something was amiss?

I was actually asleep through the firefight and explosion at MIT. My girlfriend woke me up at around 5:30 or 6 to tell me what had happened, and to let me know that everyone was being asked to stay indoors due to an ongoing manhunt. I immediately turned on the television and watched what was going on in Waterton unfold for probably three or four hours. I was checking Twitter and Facebook the entire time, and had plenty of family and friends from all over, including Mississippi, calling and texting me to make sure I was okay.

How would you describe the period when the Boston area was under the “shelter-in-place” order?

Eerie, somewhat scary, and mostly boring. During the morning, it seemed like they were going to catch the second suspect rather quickly, so I was not too worried about missing school and work. Then all sorts of closings were announced – schools, businesses, municipal offices, etc. – and it became apparent that this wasn’t going to be over for a while. It is really odd to not see any traffic or people on the sidewalks. In a way it is quite haunting. Adding to that the fact that they still had not located the suspect, and that he is from the city I live in, made me worry a bit that he could he hiding not too far from where I live. (Editor’s note: Authorities captured the second suspect Friday night.)

After a while, though, you start to get stir crazy and, frankly, pretty annoyed by the whole situation. I completely understand why they do not want people and traffic getting in the way of an ongoing manhunt, so I am not criticizing the decision. I am just saying that it is pretty unpleasant.

How was the order enforced? In other words, did law enforcement do things like house checks to keep people off the streets?

They did not, but it seems to me like they did not really need to. The almost constant sound of sirens in the background served as a reminder to us that they still had not located the suspect and that it would be best for everyone to stay put.

What did you originally have planned for Friday that was interrupted?

My school has a formal dinner and dance every spring called the Diplomat’s Ball. It is one of the most anticipated events of the spring semester, if not the entire academic year. This year, it was going to be located at a very nice venue in downtown Boston and everyone was very much looking forward to it. Unfortunately, the event had to be cancelled due to the shutdown of the trains and taxicab services in Boston.

Is Houston Nutt a great example of the American Dream, or the greatest example?

If the American Dream involves earning an obscenely high salary for doing a terrible job, then totally. He embodies it as well as anybody.

Must-have Mississippi food: Fried catfish with hushpuppies

Favorite movie: Saving Private Ryan

Last book read: A History of the World in 6 Glasses (if you like world history and drinking, this is a great read)

Website: RedCupRebellion.com

Twitter: @BobLynchII (or if you want the blog one it’s @RedCupRebellion)

Facebook: I think it’s facebook.com/pages/red-cup-rebellion

Miss. Power increases cost estimate for Kemper plant

April 23rd, 2013 2 comments

Mississippi Power Co.’s Kemper County coal plant will cost $3.42 billion to build, the utility announced Tuesday afternoon.

That’s just under $600 million more than the $2.88 billion figure that has been the maximum estimate for several months. In a press release, CEO Ed Day said the utility will not seek to recover the additional costs from ratepayers.

Doing so would have been difficult. A recent settlement that allowed Mississippi Power to ask for cost recovery stipulated that the plant’s rate base – or what costs the utility could recover from its 190,000 ratepayers – be limited to $2.4 billion. The settlement was reached after Mississippi Public Service commissioners denied last summer a cost recovery request pending the outcome of litigation that has circled the facility since before construction started.

“While we are disappointed that costs have increased, we believe we have done the right thing by remaining accountable to our customers,” Day said in the company press release.

The Sierra Club, which opposes the plant, still has litigation active against it. A Hattiesburg resident has also challenged the Baseload Act, the 2008 law that allows utilities to recover constructions costs associated with new facilities as they are being built. The Mississippi Supreme Court heard oral argument related to the Baseload challenge earlier this year, but has not yet ruled.

The palnt is scheduled to begin commercial operation in May 2014.

Exec: Nissan shifting focus to Canton

April 23rd, 2013 No comments

An automotive industry website published Monday highlights of a wide-ranging interview with a Nissan executive, and the Canton plant was a big part of it.

Colin Dodge, Nissan Americas chairman, said the company is preparing to turn Canton into the international export hub for the next-generation Murano, a small SUV that has become one of Nissan’s more popular models.

To do that, Dodge told autonews.com, Nissan has to move past a series of manufacturing issues that plagued it last year.

“We had some confusion in manufacturing that disturbed our plan, and it wasn’t insignificant,” he said. “I won’t say that everything that could go wrong went wrong, but we had challenges.”

Dodge said the troubles left Canton 15 percent short of its production goals. The facility turned out 233,441 vehicles in 2012, according to Nissan figures.

The issues started when Nissan started producing the Altima midsize sedan in two plants; started making the Infiniti JX; a next-generation Pathfinder; electric Leaf and battery modules in Smyrna, Tenn.; and moved production of the Xterra SUV and Frontier pickup to Canton. The company also increased shifts in two U.S facilities and hired more than 4,000 additional workers to fill them.

Dodge admits the ramp-up “overwhelmed” the company. “I never tried to do something as difficult as that before, and I probably never will again.” Dodge said the company has solved the problems.

During the legislative session that just ended, lawmakers approved $100 million in bonds that will be publicly issued but whose note will be paid by Nissan. It’s believed the bonds will be used for an expansion of Nissan Canton’s supplier park.

To read the entire story, click here (premium content).

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GreenTech adding new model to Horn Lake production

April 22nd, 2013 No comments

GreenTech Automotive announced Monday at the Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition that it will build a five-passenger electric sedan in Horn Lake.

GreenTech already builds the MyCar, a small electric vehicle, at its facility in Horn Lake’s old Dover Elevator building. Production started last summer.

The company said in Monday’s press release that the sedan will feature a 19kwh battery with a range of more than 100 miles on a single 6-8 hour charge. Assembly of the vehicle will start late this year, and will be distributed in North America. GreenTech is partnering with JAC, a Chinese automotive manufacturer, to build the vehicle.

“JAC is recognized worldwide for the caliber and quality of its manufacturing. GTA’s innovative electric powertrain is a perfect fit for JAC’s EV platform, which has won numerous national awards in China,” Charles Wang, GreenTech chairman and CEO, said in a release. “Our meetings clearly revealed that there was good synergy between the JAC platforms and our technology and both companies immediately understood that a strategic partnership is in each company’s best interest.”

After a pilot assembly of 2,000 vehicles, GreenTech plans to build the new vehicle at an additional facility somewhere in the U.S.

GreeenTech, in 2011, borrowed $3 million from the Mississippi Development Authority for site work on the company’s facility. The terms of the loan call for the company to create a minimum of 350 job by Dec. 31, 2014. Loan payments will begin after production starts, an MDA spokesperson told the Mississippi Business Journal last week.

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Baria: ‘Military-type stuff’ surrounding Boston manhunt

April 19th, 2013 No comments

One Coast lawmaker’s trip to Boston has taken a turn for the weird.

Rep. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, his wife and daughter arrived last night. Baria said in an interview Friday morning that his wife had a conference in the city, and his daughter wanted to visit a few of the area colleges and universities.

» (VIDEO) Mississippi doctor recalls Boston Marathon bombing

A manhunt for at least one of the remaining Boston Marathon bombing suspects changed those plans. Late Thursday night into Friday morning, Massachusetts and federal authorities were still searching for a 19-year-old Chechen man who they said was armed and extremely dangerous, possibly possessing explosives and at least one assault weapon.

Because of that, a “shelter-in-place” order has been issued, forcing residents and those in for a visit to the Boston area to stay locked indoors.

Baria and his family’s shelter is a hotel in Copley Square, where two explosions detonated Monday near the Marathon’s finish line. The Barias arrived in Boston Thursday night, with some trepidation because of what happened Monday, he said.

“And then about 5:30 (Friday) morning, I started to hear dogs barking outside the hotel,” Baria said in a phone interview. “And I thought that was strange because were definitely in what you would consider a downtown area. But I turned on the TV and figured out pretty quick that it was probably police K9s.”

Baria said there were armored law enforcement vehicles staked outside his hotel window. All forms of public transit have been halted. He and his daughter had two appointments — one of them at nearby Harvard — scheduled today. “I mean theres military-type stuff all over the place. Maybe they’ll find this guy and the schools will open back up this afternoon,” he said. “Until then, I’m definitely going to follow instructions and stay in place.”

Toyota to make production announcement Friday (Updated)

April 18th, 2013 No comments

Toyota president Akio Toyoda will unveil a new production initiative Friday morning in New York.

Details of Toyoda’s announcement are scarce. It’s unknown if it will have any bearing on the Toyota plant in Blue Springs, which has been making the Corolla compact sedan since November 2011.

There have been faint rumors of another model being added to the Blue Springs line since then, but company officials have dismissed those, for the most part. Toyota, going back to the original Blue Springs announcement in early 2007, has built a reputation as being really good at keeping major announcements under wraps until the company is ready to make them.

It’s likely whatever production move the company announces Friday will have to do with one of the company’s North American facilities. North American region CEO Jim Lentz will appear with Toyoda.

If Blue Springs is on tomorrow’s agenda, it’s conceivable that a related supplier will locate in West Point, about 60 miles of four-lane highway from the Blue Springs.

The Clarion-Ledger reported Wednesday that Gov. Phil Bryant will call a special session April 29 for lawmakers to consider incentives for an economic development project. The newspaper reported the project is an auto supplier in West Point.

Toyoda will make the announcement at 8:30. A live stream can be found at www.toyotanewsroom.com.

UPDATE: Reuters is reporting that Toyota’s facility in Kentucky will begin making the Lexus ES sedan in 2015. The state gave the company $146 million in incentives to land the deal.

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Bryant signing tourism consolidation bill Tuesday

April 16th, 2013 No comments

Tuesday morning, Gov. Phil Bryant will sign legislation that will rename the Harrison County Tourism Commission the Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bryant will sign the bill, which takes effect July 1, at 10:30 at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center in Biloxi.

The new regional bureau will be charged with promoting tourism across the Coast, and is designed to combine the efforts of several agencies in the three coastal counties. Members of the regional bureau will be appointed by supervisors from Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. Each county will split the new agency’s funding. Harrison County supervisors will appoint nine members; Jackson and Hancock county supervisors will appoint three each. Harrison county supervisors will set and approve the new agency’s budget.

The bill authorizes a nonvoting advisory board. It will include representatives from several sectors of the hospitality industry, including the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association and the Mississippi Casino Operators Association.

A handful of tourism agencies on the Coast have consolidated within the past few years to form a single entity that promotes tourism in the area. Consolidation of similar agencies and those charged with promoting general economic development has been a trend designed to streamline operations and save money.

Last year marked the Coast’s strongest tourism season since the 2010 BP oil spill that stretched into summer, driving down the number of visitors and related revenue. The oil spill came right after the recession had cut into Coast tourism, which serves as one of the area’s primary economic drivers.

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No Mississippi-made vehicles included in Toyota, Nissan airbag recall

April 11th, 2013 No comments

Toyota and Nissan were among automotive manufacturers to issue a huge recall of vehicles Thursday for potentially faulty passenger-side airbag systems.

The airbags were made by Takata Corp. in Japan. The carmakers said the systems were assembled with improperly manufactured wafers that could cause the airbags to deploy abnormally in the event of a crash. As many as 3 million vehicles in North America and Japan could fall under the recall.

The Toyota vehicles recalled include the Corolla, but only models made from 2001-2003, well before the company’s plant in Blue Springs started producing the compact sedan in November 2011.

The Nissan recalls include vehicles made from 2001-2003 in Japan, a spokesperson said in an email Thursday morning to the Mississippi Business Journal. Canton’s Nissan facility opened in May 2003.

The recall also affected Honda vehicles. The manufacturers will notify owners within 30 days if their vehicle qualifies for a front passenger airbag inflator replacement. Replacement will be free.

“Nissan is committed to a high level of customer safety, service and satisfaction and is working with its dealers to promptly address this issue,” the company said in a press release.

Toyota-related information can be found at www.toyota.com/recall and www.lexus.com/recall or by calling 1 800-331-4331 (Toyota) and 1 800-255-3987 (Lexus).

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Port revitalization to reach milestone Wednesday

April 9th, 2013 No comments

Gov. Phil Bryant will be on hand Wednesday as the last truckload of “fill” is dumped on the west pier of the Port of Gulfport.

The 11 a.m. ceremony will mark a major milestone for the 80-acre fill project that’s part of the port’s overall restoration after Hurricane Katrina.

The project originally began as a much larger venture, with a $500 million price tag and designs on attracting megaships bound for Asia.

Those plans changed last summer, when port commissioners revealed that wouldn’t be possible once the Panama Canal is widened.

The project’s completion date, which to go with filling the west pier will include deepening the port’s channel to 45 feet, is scheduled for 2015.

The project has been a source of controversy since its inception. Former Gov. Haley Barbour was criticized by housing advocates and community activists for diverting Katrina-related recovery money from housing efforts to the port. Officials eventually diverted about $160 million originally meant for the port to housing programs. Federal guidelines attached to Katrina money allowed some funds earmarked for things like housing to be used for economic development.

As it is, the port’s job creation estimates hover around 1,300, to go with the 1,200 already employed there. Officials still hope it can attract as many large ships carrying textiles, automotive parts and fruit to Europe and Asia.

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Blount and Gipson take different views of recently passed business incentives

April 8th, 2013 No comments

Sen. David Blount and Rep. Andy Gipson agree it’s a matter of time before they join their colleagues in a special session to hash out funding for the state’s Medicaid program.

Blount, a Jackson Democrat, and Gipson, a Simpson County Republican, recapped the just-ended legislative session Monday at the lunch meeting of the Stennis Capitol Press Corps.

Lawmakers left Jackson last week with no funding for Medicaid after the fiscal year ends on June 30. Republicans and Democrats spent a lot of the session arguing over the program’s expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Like most others in his party, Blount supports expanding the program.

“I think we need to admit that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land,” he said. “And Mississippians will be paying for the expansion whether we actually do it or not.”

Blount cited figures that the program would cost the state $555 million through 2025, but would get $12.1 billion back from the federal government. He added that Democrats would be willing to consider alternatives to outright expansion – such as legislation that would trigger expansion if uncompensated care payments were to disappear from hospitals that provide indigent care.

Gipson echoed Gov. Phil Bryant’s assertion that the state could not afford to add another few hundred thousand Mississippians to the Medicaid rolls, and questioned if the federal government would keep its promise to pay 90 percent of the expansion costs. “It’s odd that a group was willing to leave the Capitol without funding Medicaid,” Gipson said of Democrats’ twice killing the legislation to do so.

Gipson and Blount also took differing views of the handful of tax credits and incentives lawmakers passed. Gipson said incentives applied properly “are great economic development tools,” listing as an example recently passed legislation designed to spur construction of a retail shopping complex in Pearl.

Blount said many times lawmakers vote on incentives without knowing their exact financial impact.

“The Legislature is passing bills that will have a long-term impact (on the state’s budget) with no information on what they will cost,” he said.