General Dynamics IT to open call center in Hattiesburg

February 20th, 2013 No comments

Less than two weeks after a tornado tore through Hattiesburg and  Petal, state and local officials gathered to announce that General Dynamics Information Technology will open a call center within the city the next two months.

The call center will create 225 jobs by this summer, and 250 by April 2014. The new location, set for the 17,000 square-foot Cloverleaf Building on Highway 49 south, will be operational by April of this year and will support General Dyamics’ work with the U.S. Dept. of Education’s federal student aid program.

The Mississippi Development Authority is providing $150,000 in ACE money, taken from a fund the MDA uses to help local economic development entities like Hattiesburg’s Area Development Partnership lure projects. The company will also receive local and state tax incentives and workforce training assistance.

General Dynamics, a Fortune 100 company headquartered in Falls Church, Va., employees nearly 100,000 people worldwide. The company is involved in a number of aviation and marine systems, including land and expeditionary systems, armaments and munitions; shipbuilding and IT systems.

General Dynamics IT is headquartered in Fairfax, Va., employs 21,000 people worldwide and provides systems engineering, professional services and simulation training to a number of private and government agencies, including the defense industry, healthcare, homeland security and intelligence communities.

The center will act as a processing center for federal student aid applications, Marcus Collier, General Dynamics IT senior vice president of health and civilian solutions division. In 2012, Collier said, a similar center processed a total of 12 million applications. “We’ve been supporting the Department of Education on this program since 1985,” Collier said.

A majority of the 225 jobs will be customer service representatives and call center supervisors, Collier said.

“We are going to make sure this great company is so excited about being part of the Pine Belt, Hattiesburg and Southern Miss,” Gov. Phil Bryant told an audience of a couple hundred people at Hattiesburg’s Lake Terrace Convention Center.

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Business officials push for RESTORE Act funds to pay for ecosystem restoration

February 19th, 2013 No comments

A group of 120 business leaders have signed a letter urging that money allocated under the RESTORE Act be used to rebuild the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The RESTORE Act became law last summer. It directs 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP and other companies connected to the spill will pay to states that border the Gulf of Mexico.

Total payments are expected to be more than $20 billion, and are intended to fund efforts to restore the Gulf’s ecosystem. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which includes governors of Gulf States, will allocate the money.

The business leaders’ letter – sent Tuesday to the five Gulf states governors, including Gov. Phil Bryant – says the money should be used for environmental restoration, not diverted elsewhere.

“Right now, there is a remarkable opportunity to restore the Gulf, to strengthen its traditional industries, spur innovation, accelerate emerging markets centered on environmental restoration and promote new prosperity,” says a press release accompanying the letter. It cites a 2010 study done by economic consultants in Georgia that says $20 billion in RESTORE Act money could create almost 57,000 jobs in the Gulf region.

“These restoration projects create a demand for work from a wide variety of companies in the engineering, construction, transportation and manufacturing sectors,” Thomas Matthews, of Pass Christian-based marine specialty construction firm Matthews Brothers  Inc., said in the release. “As one of the first firms to win a contract on a post-BP spill environmental restoration project in Mississippi, I have witnessed firsthand that investments in coastal restoration can mean jobs for coastal workers and economic growth for local businesses and communities.”

The 2010 spill sent over the course of three months almost 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, which breaks down to about 210 million gallons. The worst damage in Mississippi came around the Barrier Islands that sit a few miles south of the shore. It’s considered the worst manmade environmental disaster in history, and came less than five years after Hurricane Katrina, considered the worst natural disaster ever.

Toyota settles unintended acceleration claims

February 18th, 2013 No comments

Attorney General Jim Hood announced Monday morning Mississippi was one of 29 states to settle with Toyota Motor Corp. related to unintended acceleration issues in some of the company’s vehicles.

Mississippi will receive $561,288 of the $29 million Toyota will pay to settle consumer protection claims. Toyota will also be banned from advertising safety features of its vehicles without what a press release from Hood’s office calls “sound engineering data to back such safety claims.”

Mississippi and the 28 other states claimed during the litigation that Toyota had engaged in unfair and deceptive practices when the company failed to timely disclose known safety defects with accelerator pedals.

“Our investigation led us to determine poor communication between Toyota’s nerve center in Japan and Toyota’s United States holdings were partially responsible for Toyota’s failure to report known safety issues in a timely manner,” Hood is quoted as saying in the release.

In addition, the settlement provides that Toyota is:

• Prohibited from reselling a vehicle it reacquired with alleged safety defects without informing the purchaser about the alleged defect(s) and certifying that the reacquired vehicle has been fixed

• Prohibited from misrepresenting the purpose of an inspection or repair when directing consumers to bring their vehicles to a dealer for inspection or repair

• Required to exclude from the “Toyota Certified Used Vehicles” or “Lexus Certified Pre-Owned Vehicles” categories any vehicle acquired through lemon law proceedings or voluntarily repurchased by Toyota to ensure customer satisfaction.

Consumers who have questions about restitution related to the settlement can call one of two hotlines Toyota has set up. For Toyota vehicles, call 800-331-4331. For Lexus vehicles, call 800-255-3987.

Lines are staffed from 8 a.m. CST to 8 p.m. CST Monday thru Friday, and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. CST to 6 p.m. CST.

Toyota settled late last year separate litigation related to the same issues. The company agreed to pay out $1.1 billion, and to set up a fund that would retrofit affected vehicles with technology to counter the unintended acceleration.

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Miss. Supreme Court asks for more briefs related to Baseload Act

February 14th, 2013 No comments

The Mississippi Supreme Court asked Thursday afternoon for additional briefs related to a Hattiesburg resident’s constitutional challenge to the Baseload Act.

The ruling comes after a Jan. 28 hearing in which Thomas Blanton’s attorney told seven of the court’s justices that the Act – which was passed in 2008 and allows utilities to charge customers for generation facilities as they are being built – is unconstitutional because it violates the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which prevents confiscatory taking of property without due process.

Mississippi Power attorneys argued in the same hearing that the law allows for utilities to increase rates for used and useful services, and the facilities the Act is designed to pay for are the benefit customers receive.

The hearing was the result of a rate dispute between the PSC and Mississippi Power related to the Kemper coal plant. The two entities settled that less than a week before the hearing. In Thursday’s order, the high court accepted the settlement and dismissed that case.

The court said the briefs it ordered will have to address five issues:

  1. Whether Blanton’s challenge to the Baseload Act is moot.
  2. Whether his challenge is ripe for the court to consider
  3. Whether the Baseload Act provides for an unconstitutional tax, as Blanton’s lawyer alleged Jan. 28.
  4. Whether the Baseload Act is otherwise unconstitutional
  5. Whether Blanton was accorded due process

Attorneys for Blanton, Mississippi Power Co. and the Mississippi Public Service Commission have 20 days from Feb. 12 to submit their briefs.

SMART Business Act moves forward before Thursday deadline

February 12th, 2013 No comments

The Strengthening Mississippi Academic Research Through (SMART) Business Act has passed the Senate ahead of the next major legislative deadline.

The bill would offer a 25 percent rebate to businesses that contract with Mississippi universities for qualified research. It’s one piece of Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s legislative agenda.

The rebates for one business are capped at $1 million, and are capped overall at $5 million per year.

Hosemann said the legislation would fill some of the gap left by disappearing federal research funds, and help to strengthen the partnership between the business community and Mississippi colleges and universities.

The Senate Finance Committee did insert a reverse repealer into the bill, which is a mechanism used to keep alive the legislation before a deadline, like this Thursday’s deadline for floor action on original legislation. It’s also a way to ensure the legislation ends up in a conference committee.

Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, was the lone “no” vote. The bill is Senate Bill 2537.

Tornado clean-up starts in Hattiesburg, Petal

February 11th, 2013 No comments

The clean-up from Sunday’s tornado in Hattiesburg and Petal started Monday morning.

The storm hit during mid-afternoon, caused extensive damage to residential areas and business districts and to the campus of University of Southern Mississippi.

Almost 100 injuries had been reported, but no deaths. More than 300 buildings had some degree of damage, a lot of it major, according to emergency officials.

Mississippi Power Co. said as of Monday morning, 4,000 of its customers were without electricity, and 100 power poles were broken.

In a news release, Mississippi Power Pine Belt division manager Jason Lee said at its peak Sunday, 13,000 customers had no power. More than 300 of the company’s linemen, engineers and tree-removal crews were on the ground.

“We are working on the hardest hit areas first,” Lee said, “which has been challenging due to the continuous rain, wind and scattered debris blocking access to troubled areas.”

Monday’s forecast for the Hattiesburg area called for rain to continue through most of the daylight hours.

The Salvation Army also started setting up feeding and relief stations in Petal and Hattiesburg.

Six mobile units were active by 11 a.m. Monday:

* Petal Harvey Baptist Church

* The Highway 49/Hardy Street intersection

* Forrest County Multi-purpose Center

* A roving unit in Oak Grove

* Lowe’s parking lot on Hardy Street

* Residential areas east of the USM campus

Donations are accepted at donate.salvationarmyusa.org/uss/disaster or by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY. You can also text “Give” to 80888.

House passes Kemper bond, rate recovery bills

February 8th, 2013 2 comments

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed Friday morning legislation that would allow Mississippi Power to issue bonds, up to $1 billion, to cover costs over $2.4 billion for the Kemper County coal plant. Representatives also approved a bill that would give the Mississippi Public Service Commission authority to set a multi-year rate recovery plan for the plant once it becomes operational.

The vote on the bond bill was 90-26 after about an hour of discussion. The multi-year rate recovery plan bill passed 100-17 with no discussion. Both were held on a motion to reconsider, a procedural move that usually serves only to temporarily delay legislation’s forward movement.

Both bills were in response to a settlement reached last month between the utility and the PSC that lowered what the company could include in the project’s rate base from $2.88 billion to $2.4 billion. The bonds would cover anything over the cap.

Rep. Sherra Lane, D-Waynesboro, offered several amendments to the bond bill that would have prohibited Mississippi Power from collecting any costs incurred before the passage of the legislation, limited what the company could place into the bonds and changed the procedural mechanisms the bond requests would meet at the PSC. She said any decision about cost overruns should lie with the PSC, not on lawmakers.

“This settlement put the $1 billion fee on the Legislature. If the Public Service Commission wants to do that, they have the power to do that.”

The amendments failed. “The more things the company is willing to put into (the rate recovery bonds), the less they can earn on a rate of return,” House Public Utilities Committee Chairman Charles Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, said in opposing the amendment. “The company doesn’t earn a rate of return on the bonds. Issuing the bonds will cost ratepayers less than including these costs in the rate base.”

Rep. Kevin Horan, D-Grenada, offered an amendment that would have limited to $500,000 attorneys’ fees related to issuing the bonds. It passed.

“This bill is fundamentally unfair to every member of the Legislature,” Horan said, echoing Lane’s assertion that the PSC should grapple with whether to allow cost overruns, not lawmakers. “This is a shame.”

Mississippi Power spokesperson Cindy Duvall said in a statement that Friday’s vote “takes us one step closer to saving Mississippi Power customers $1 billion or more.”

The coal plant is scheduled to begin commercial operation in May 2014.

Familiar bills live, die at committee deadline

February 6th, 2013 1 comment

The legislation that would have stopped the requirement that certain small businesses pay two months’ worth of sales and use taxes right before the end of the fiscal year is dead.

Tuesday was the first major deadline for bills to either make it out of the committees to which they were first assigned, or wait until next session.

The accelerated tax payment system requires that taxpayers that collect sales and use taxes and have an average monthly tax liability of at least $20,000 – which encompasses a lot of small businesses – pay June taxes by June 25, a week before a new fiscal year starts. Normally, those taxes are paid the following month. (For example, April taxes are paid on May 20.)

The Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses had supported raising that $20,000 threshold to at least $50,000, something that was supposed to happen due to legislation passed a few years ago, but has been delayed. Four bills that would have done that were filed; none made it past the committee deadline.

Several pieces of legislation that have died the last few sessions met the same fate this year  — among them, bills to require nursing homes to carry liability insurance and shifting the burden of proof from claimants to insurance companies in claims arising under all-perils policies.

Other bills that have gotten the attention of the business community fared better. Legislation to expand financial literacy classes to all high school grades made it. That legislation is one Treasurer Lynn Fitch’s priorities.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s collection of tax credit bills are still alive, though they face a later deadline because they’re revenue bills.  The same goes for bills that clarify how tax assessors calculate the tax liability for Section 42, or affordable rental, housing developments.

The first deadline for those bills is Feb. 27, when they must be passed out of their chamber, or die.

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Fiscal year 2012 brought Toyota big jumps in operating, net income

February 5th, 2013 No comments

Toyota’s net revenues for the nine-month period that ended Dec. 31 were 16.2 trillion yen (about $174.8 billion).

That represented a 26 percent increase over the same period last fiscal year. The company announced the results Tuesday.

Operating income increased 117.1 billion yen ($1.3 billion), to 818.5 billion yen ($88.2 billion). Net income increased from 162.5 billion yen to 648.1 billion yen ($6.9 billion).

The company attributed the increase in operating income to successful marketing efforts that generated 660.0 billion yen ($7.1 billion) and reducing costs by 320 billion yen ($3.5 billion).

Consolidated vehicle sales for the nine months totaled 6.629 million units, an increase of 1.634 million units compared to the same period last year.

In Japan, vehicle sales totaled 1.668 million units, an increase of 310,564 units compared to the same period last fiscal year. In North America, vehicle sales totaled 1.865 million units, an increase of 596,587 units compared to the prior year.

Also on Tuesday, Toyota revised its consolidated vehicle sales forecast for fiscal year 2013 from 8.75 million units to 8.85 million units, an increase of 100,000 units from the previous forecast announced last November. The upward adjustment was attributed to an expected jump in North American sales.

The company also said it expects fiscal year 2013 consolidated net revenue to reach 21 trillion yen ($226.5 billion), operating income of 1.15 trillion yen ($10.8 billion), and net income of 860 billion yen ($9.3 billion).

“We believe that our efforts have been bearing fruit and that we are finally on the road to sustainable growth,” Toyota senior managing officer Takahiko Ijichi said in a company press release. “We will continue our efforts to build ever-better cars and to move forward in a steadfast manner.”

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Toyota’s January sales growth nearly doubles industry average

February 4th, 2013 No comments

Toyota’s sales in 2012 were up 26 percent over 2011, and that trend continued the first month of 2013.

The company sold 157,725 units in January, an increase of 26.6 percent over the same period from last year.

That’s despite January 2012 having one more selling day than last month.

“The sales pace we saw in the fourth quarter of last year rolled into January, exceeding our expectations for the industry,” Bill Fay, Toyota Division group vice president and general manager of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said in a company press release.

The automotive industry as a whole had its best January since 2008. Sales growth spread across all manufacturers averaged 14 percent from last January. Toyota’s 26 percent increase nearly doubled that figure. Ford Motor Co.’s 22 percent increase was second best.

Sales of the Corolla, which is made in Blue Springs, were up 32 percent, with 23,822 units sold.

To see Toyota’s entire January sales chart, click here.

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