Toyota reports best sales month since 2009 Cash for Clunkers program

April 2nd, 2013 No comments

Toyota’s sales numbers for March represented a 4.8 percent increase over March 2012 on a daily selling rate basis.

The company sold 205,342 units in March. Total sales were up 1 percent on one fewer selling day.

For the first quarter, Toyota reported sales of 529,444 units, an increase of 10.1 percent over the same period in 2012 on a DSR basis on one fewer selling day. Total sales for the quarter were up 8.7 percent.

“The auto industry continued its string of impressive monthly results, and at Toyota we had our best month since Cash for Clunkers in August of 2009,” Bob Carter, senior vice president of automotive operations, said in a company press release. “A strong first-quarter close and increased consumer confidence continue to position the auto industry as a leader in the economic recovery.”

The Toyota Division sold 182,152 units in March, up 3.1 percent year-over-year on a DSR basis.  Volume-wise, Toyota Division sales dropped 0.5 percent over March 2012.

Sales of the Corolla, made in Blue Springs, were up 11.1 percent, with 31,423 units sold. Sales across the automotive industry were up 6 percent for the quarter. Toyota revised its overall industry sales projections for 2013 up to 15.3 million units, and 2.2 million units as a company.

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State’s electronic court system expanding

April 2nd, 2013 No comments

The Mississippi Electronic Court system is adding to its database.

On March 18, electronic filing became mandatory in Grenada County Chancery court. On March 4, chancery courts in Holmes and Yazoo counties were brought online. Rankin County chancery court joined Feb. 4.

Chancery courts in Lowndes, Webster and Clay counties will soon mandate e-filing, though an exact date has not been set, according to a Mississippi Supreme Court press release. In all, chancery courts in those counties and in Madison, Harrison, DeSoto and Warren mandate e-filing.

Right now, MEC is used only for civil cases. Madison County Circuit Court will be the first to use it for criminal cases. Training for that started March 19, though an exact date for it to start is still unknown.

Madison County was the pilot site when the MEC started in 2009. The system was modeled after PACER, the federal courts’ e-filing database.

Both are designed to make filing more efficient for attorneys, and to expand public access to court files. Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. has spearheaded the system’s development.

“You can certainly get an order entered much quicker this way. In the past, even if you had an agreed order, you would leave it with my court administrator and I would sign it,” said chancery judge Percy Lynchard, whose district includes Grenada County, in the MSSC’s press release. “It saves a whole lot of paperwork, a whole lot of time and trouble, and a whole lot of miles to the courthouse,”

Free MEC training is available for attorneys at the Gartin Justice Building, which houses the MSSC and the Court of Appeals, in Jackson. Online registration is available here. Training dates will be set in April and May.

According to court figures, almost half of the 7,050 licensed attorneys in Mississippi have registered to use MEC. More than 1,200 non-attorneys have signed up.

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Whole Foods work to temporarily close Old Canton entrance to Highland Village

March 29th, 2013 No comments

The Old Canton Road entrance to Highland Village in Jackson will be temporarily closed, starting April 2.

White Construction Co., which is building the shopping center’s Whole Foods Market, will spend two weeks running new power lines for the natural foods grocer’s 30,000 square-foot building. The company will also resurface the adjacent parking area.

A Highland Village newsletter sent Friday said signs directing shoppers to other entrances will be erected while the work is being completed. Other access points include one on Northside Drive, Interstate 55’s frontage road and another entrance on Old Canton Road in front of Bravo! Italian Restaurant and Bar.

Whole Foods will sit to the east of Highland Village’s existing buildings. The store’s east side will run directly alongside and parallel to Old Canton Road. The front of the store will face north toward Northside Drive.

Jackson’s Whole Foods will be the first in Mississippi. Ground broke last November, with the store set to open this fall.

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Healthcare institutions team to build Habitat home

March 27th, 2013 No comments

Chief executives from four hospitals in Jackson will turn dirt Thursday on a Habitat for Humanity home.

Baptist Health Systems, St. Dominic Health Systems, University of Mississippi Medical Center and Health Management Associates have partnered to build the home on Englewood Street.

Employees from each healthcare provider (including students from UMMC) will participate in the eight-day building process this month and next.

This is the first time the institutions have collaborated to build a Habitat home.

“Taking care of people is what each of our institutions do on a daily basis, but we mostly do it in isolation from one another,” UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs James E. Keeton said in a press release. “The opportunity to work side-by-side to help our fellow man is pretty special. I think this will be a catalyst to help us find other ways to work together in the service of the greater Jackson community.”

The home is being built for Michelle Owens, a licensed practical nurse at Hinds Comprehensive Medical Center. She has two children, 10 and 5 years old. They currently rent a two-bedroom house, according to a Habitat press release, in which the plumbing regularly backs up, to go with doors that won’t close completely and a large hole in the bathroom.

Owens said the home would provide her and her children “peace of mind. There is a lot that comes with that — a feeling of security, being more comfortable and a better sense of stability for my family. I want my kids to have a home of their own, not just something we are renting.”

Leaders from the healthcare institutions will don hard hats during a ceremony at 1 p.m. Thursday at the construction site at 233 Englewood St in Jackson. The home will be the 556th built since Habitat for Humanity/Metro Jackson was founded in 1986.

Nissan bond bill clears Senate, heads to House

March 27th, 2013 No comments

The Senate passed with little debate Wednesday a bill that would authorize the Madison County Economic Development Authority to issue up to $100 million in bonds for an expansion of the Nissan plant in Canton.

The bonds would not be general obligation, but would be classified as revenue-only. Nissan would service the bonds via lease payments for the buildings. Neither the state nor Madison County would be on the hook should that fail to happen, said Sen. Will Longwitz, R-Madison, the bill’s principal author.

Longwitz said on the floor of the Senate last week that the bonds would pay for three buildings for suppliers related to an upcoming expansion at Nissan, the details of which Mississippi Development Authority and legislative officials would not share. Longwitz said the project would create several hundred jobs.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously, but not before an amendment that would set a time limit for the bonds to be issued. Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, proposed the amendment that would give the MCEDA until March 31, 2014, to issue the bonds.

The bill now goes to the House.

Bills that employed standard general obligation financing have not fared well since the beginning of the 2012 legislative session. Last year was the first session in several that lawmakers did not pass a general bond bill for things like infrastructure projects and upgrades to state buildings. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who could not come to terms with House leadership last year on a bond bill, has said several times he’ll support one this year that is “reasonable and rational in size.”

Bryan, who generally leads the charge in scrutinizing incentives the state offers to new and existing businesses, said the Nissan bill’s use of revenue-only bonds that held the state harmless is something that “folks are generally comfortable with.”

This is the fourth consecutive year Nissan has unveiled some kind of expansion in Canton. In 2010 the company announced it was starting production of commercial vans at the facility. In 2011, news broke of the Xterra SUV and Frontier pickup’s lines moving to Canton from the company’s plant in Smyrna, Tann. Last summer, Nissan announced it would start making the Sentra compact sedan in Canton. All told, the three expansions have represented an investment of more than $200 million and have pushed Nissan’s total employment figures to more than 5,000.

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Toyota SVP says company expects strong 2013

March 26th, 2013 No comments

Toyota expects auto sales across all manufacturers to reach 15.3 million units in 2013.

That was one of the points Toyota Motor Sales senior vice president Bob Carter made Tuesday at the J.D. Power/National Automobile Dealers Association’s Automotive Forum.

That would represent an increase in total sales of about 4 percent over 2012.

Carter said the sales outlook for the next few years is even better, tracking toward 16 million units.

He said the growth is a symptom of what he called a continually improving economy. Carter cited lower unemployment rates, higher consumer confidence and stock prices and increases in manufacturing and construction.

“Last year, the economy grew on average about two-percent, and this year will probably be about the same,” said during his speech at the industry forum. “Fortunately, we believe the auto industry will grow even more than the economy in 2013.”

Total industry sales for the first two months of sales in 2013 are2.2 million units, almost 9 percent more than the same period last year, Carter said. Toyota’s three major brands – Toyota, Scion and Lexus — sold over 324,100 vehicles in that time, a 14.1 percent increase from a year ago, and nearly double the industry growth, Carter said.

“And we expect a lot of that growth to be in hybrids, small trucks and retail sales, areas of strength for Toyota,” Carter said. “So we believe we’re poised for another solid year.”

Several things will drive that, Carter said. Pent-up demand is one, with the average age of the U.S. auto fleet reaching a record high of 11 years old, according to industry figures. Historically low rates for car loans is another, Carter said.

“Younger buyers are returning to the market at a higher rate than any other age category, which bodes well for market longevity and for all of us,” he said.

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Segments of DeSoto County road now Delta Bluffs Scenic Byway

March 25th, 2013 No comments

Three segments of road in DeSoto County are now a part of the Mississippi Scenic Byways Program.

Senate Bill 2491, signed by Gov. Phil Bryant earlier in March, creates the Delta Bluffs Scenic Byway. The legislation was introduced by the DeSoto County delegation of the Legislature.

The Scenic Byways Program designates highways, roads and certain street corners in an effort to preserve the history around them. Other byways that have earned the designation include the Natchez Trace, the Great River Road along the Mississippi River and the Longleaf Trace Trails in South Mississippi. In all, there are more than 40 byway designations across the state.

The program, part of the National Scenic Byways Program administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, is designed to unlock a designee’s tourism potential.

Delta Bluffs Scenic Byway will have three segments. The northern part will begin at the intersection of Austin Road and Mississippi Highway 301 in DeSoto County and run westward into the Mississippi Delta. The southern branch will begin at the same intersection and run south toward Arkabutla Lake. The east-west branch will begin at Interstate 55 at state Highway 304 in Hernando and run west.

A Corridor Advocacy Group made up on citizens, businesses and their interests, civic groups and local officials will manage the byway. The group will develop a long-term plan for the byway, formulate and carry out specific goals, institute a work plan and create a community participation program.


ESPN anchor to speak at Belhaven

March 21st, 2013 No comments

ESPN’s Jay Harris, who frequently anchors the network’s flagship show Sportscenter, will be at Belhaven University next week as part of the school’s ”Advice from the Pros” speaker series.

Harris’ appearance is in conjunction with Belhaven’s recently adding a sports broadcasting concentration to its overall communications curriculum.

Harris will speak from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday, March 25, at Belhaven Barber Auditorium. Students from Ole Miss, Jackson State, Mississippi College and Millsaps are invited. Admission to the event is free.

Harris has been with ESPN since 2003. In 2006, the network selected him to anchor the 6 p.m. EST Sportscenter, the most-viewed time slot for the network’s most popular show. Also speaking is Kelly Jones, morning anchor for KCTV in Kansas City; and Marc Williams, of Williams Communications.

“I know that there will be the initial buzz of ‘Jay Harris is here from ESPN’” said Dr. Nathan Kirkpatrick, assistant professor of sports administration. “That is good, but I am almost happier that students will be hearing from practicing professionals. In class, we practice writing and speaking skills all the time, but Harris and Jones do this every day for a living and can offer another helpful perspective.”

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Solar tax credit legislation dies on deadline day

March 19th, 2013 No comments

Tuesday was the deadline for original floor action on appropriation and revenue bills that originated in the opposite chamber of the Legislature.

One of the bills that died would have offered a tax credit for the installation of solar energy systems.

House bill 1591 died in the Senate Finance Committee.

It would have offered an income and/or franchise tax credit for businesses that install solar energy systems, like those that use solar panels, and other services designed to improve energy efficiency. The credits would have applied to systems purchased and installed after July 1.

Similar legislation has passed in other states – California has become most associated with solar energy and offers similar tax credits — and has created some unintended consequences. Solar lease companies have become popular as money from the 2008 stimulus and other state and federal incentives for the industry became available. Homeowners who essentially rent the systems from solar lease companies don’t get the rebate because they did not purchase anything. The company receives the incentive.

What the homeowner does get is the lease debt associated with the system, even if it’s sold.

Regulation and oversight of solar lease companies – many of which are not headquartered in the state offering the tax credit – has also proven difficult.

The bill that died Tuesday would have allowed lease companies to take advantage of the credit.

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State’s exports set record in 2012

March 18th, 2013 No comments

Mississippi exported a record total of $11.8 billion in goods in 2012, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Association.

That represents a $1.8 billion increase over 2011. The U.S.’s overall export value set a record in 2012, at $2.2 trillion. Mississippi’s bordering states, with the exception of Arkansas, all exported a higher value in 2012.

Mississippi’s largest export market in 2012 was Panama, which bought $2.1 billion in goods from the state. Canada was second, with $1.9 billion; China (($864 million) came in third.

Petroleum and coal products accounted for $4 billion of the state’s exports. Other common exports include chemicals, computers and other electronic devices, transportation equipment and paper.

“The Mississippi Development Authority stands ready to assist Mississippi businesses with their exporting needs, and I encourage companies considering exporting for the first time or expanding their current trade efforts to contact MDA’s international trade specialists to learn how we can assist them,” MDA executive director Brent Christensen said in a news release.

Christensen said The Mississippi STEP Program, administered by MDA’s Trade Bureau and funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, is designed to reduce some of the financial obstacles small businesses face when entering the export market.

The program reimburses eligible small businesses up to 50 percent of travel costs, including airfare and lodging and provides translation services at no cost. Other services could include scheduled pre-arranged appointments with prospective qualified buyers, local transportation assistance and a customized trip itinerary.

The MDA has two upcoming trade missions planned. One is May 9-17 to Asia, with stops in Korea, the Phillipines, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. Another to Germany and Poland is planned for May 20-24.

Small business owners interested in either may be eligible for assistance from the STEP program.