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CalsonicKansei exec tells why Vicksburg was chosen

Warren County readies for additional Nissan suppliers

VICKSBURG — Vicksburg’s hunt for Nissan suppliers has already netted two big players. And it’s a safe bet that others will follow.

“Because most of these companies either know one another really well or are part owners of each other, they tend to cluster, so we feel that because of this location and convenience to the Nissan site from the industrial park, there’s no question whether or not additional companies are coming,” said Jimmy Heidel, executive vice president of the Warren County Port Commission. “CalsonicKansei bought enough land with the idea that there would be some expansions in the future. Both CalsonicKansei and Yorozu are expediting construction of their plants so they can be in production prior to Nissan opening. And some of their production could go to other places prior to supplying Nissan.”

CalsonicKansei North America, which will supply front-end modules, exhaust systems, catalytic converters and air conditioning plumbing to Nissan, broke ground Oct. 4 on a 150,000-square foot-plant at the Ceres Research and Industrial Complex east of Vicksburg. Production will begin in April. With a total capital investment of $23 million, its initial annual payroll for 135 employees is estimated at $4.5 million. When fully operational, about 400 employees will account for an estimated $13-million annual payroll.

“At that point, the economic impact will be $71 million per year,” said Heidel. “Mississippi sales tax on that will come to about $4.9 million on purchases. Vicksburg’s local share of sales tax revenue will be about $946,000 a year. Schools will get about $163,000 a year. The local tax assessed value will be $3.45 million. And when the exemption period is over, we’ll see local taxes of $267,400 a year.”

Yorozu America Mississippi Inc., which will supply various suspension components, broke ground Dec. 4 on an 80,000- square-foot facility, also located in the industrial park. Yorozu’s total capital investment is roughly $16.5 million, and its 125 employees will account for a $5-million a year payroll. Its construction payroll is about $6 million.

“The school benefits from taxes will be $135,000, and local tax after the exemption period will be $200,000 a year,” Heidel said. “The sales tax share of state revenue to the local community will be roughly $369,000. Yorozu’s total impact will be about $35 million per year.”

Both plants generated the jobs required to obtain two CDBG block grants totaling $1 million. The grants will be used to upgrade the roads for the plants at the industrial park, located on I-20, Heidel said.

“We still have 800 to 900 acres of land available to be fully developed and I’m requesting some federal funding to upgrade the infrastructure on another 380 acres,” Heidel said. “MDOT is designing an upgrade to the interchange there to make it easier to get on and off the interstate.”

Vicksburg’s port facilities are getting an upgrade to handle additional cargo, and beginning next year, the channel will be widened. The timing would be ripe for steel suppliers from Ohio, a much talked about possibility that has not been confirmed, Heidel said.

Before CalsonicKansei and Yorozu began building plants in Vicksburg, there was already a strong Japanese presence with Vicks Metal, a division of Sumitomo Corp., in a joint venture with Armco Steel, and a Japanese community. The Foreign Trade Zone was extended to include the Jackson International Airport.

“When we were looking for a site, we were really pleased with Vicksburg,” said Bob Croisdale, director of operations for CalsonicKansei North America Inc., who said seven areas were considered for the plant site. “Everyone, I mean everyone, was on the same page working together to grow the community.”

Croisdale, a former school board member, said the site selection committee looked at common criteria, such as education, and uncommon factors, such as the variety of churches and religions “as an indicator of how well the city accepted outsiders.”

“Vicksburg led the pack in overall quality,” he said. “The quality of life — big city in a small community — allows us to better retain professional people than some areas. For example, the economic investment in a new hospital showed us Vicksburg’s commitment to the future. We were also pleased with both the public and private education here, even though one concern was vocational training between high school and college. That’s so important for manufacturers because the backbone of our industry is how well our high-tech equipment stays running.”

Even though the link and commitment between the state’s community colleges to help train technicians and associates was impressive, Croisdale said Mississippi’s vocational training system must grow to meet the needs of industry — skilled technicians who troubleshoot and maintain the robots doing the complicated maneuvers.

“We need to be able to get local help to maintain the equipment instead of having to make calls back to Tennessee,” he said.

There are concerns about a possible lack of tooling and machine shops capable of handling required precision work, Croisdale said.

“We really need some help finding good machine shops,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be an organization in the state that represents the machine shops so we could easily find someone to do some of the tooling. Our industry is based on precision tooling and it wears out and needs to be replaced. I’m sure other suppliers will have the same needs. The industry operates on a just-in-time basis and we’ll be just too late if the equipment goes down.”

To provide an alternative route in case I-20 is blocked, the Mississippi Department of Transportation is planning to four-lane Highway 22 between Edwards and Canton.

“We’ll have two roads to get us to Nissan,” Croisdale said. “The state has promised to get a portion of I-20 fixed, where it’s washboarded, because that would be damaging to the product. It’s estimated now that there will only be a couple of hours’ time between the time a product is finished and its use at Nissan.”

In preparation for an increase in population from jobs generated by Nissan’s suppliers, Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens is proactively promoting housing developments so rental rates don’t significantly increase.

“We’ve met with developers to get housing to meet the price points of these new workers and we’ve been pushing for 670 houses to be built in the $65,000 to $95,000 price range,” he said. “We’re short about 500 houses in the low-income range. We didn’t do that with the casinos and all the rental properties filled up and the rates shot up and it displaced low income people.”

Leyens said the city is in “stage one development” with Nissan suppliers. “As time goes by, we expect the growth and impact to be huge,” he said. “Getting them here with a modern plant creates more stability. We have a good diversified industry in Vicksburg and we’re predicting good economic growth in this next fiscal year.”

Croisdale said as workforce concerns are addressed, “there will undoubtedly be conversations about getting some of our suppliers to relocate to Vicksburg.”

“We’ve had success in the past with bringing suppliers to where we’re located, such as the plant in Shelbyville, Tenn.,” he said.

The Yorozu plant manager was unavailable at press time for this article.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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