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Economic development tool just might seal that big deal

Spec building simplicity: just build it

The past five years have been very good to Columbus.

In that time, $3.6 billion worth of investment has been pumped into economic development projects, with roughly 6,000 new jobs coming with it.

Headlining those announcements were the arrivals of commercial truck manufacturer PACCAR, SeverCorr steel manufacturers and Eurocopter, which builds helicopters for military and civilian use.

Joining in the economic development parade is the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link’s recently announced plans to partner with industrial site developer Agracel to build a speculative facility in Columbus.

The premise behind a spec facility is simple, and can be related using a popular movie phrase: If you build it, they will come.

The theory officials with the Link hope comes true is, a potential business will take a look at the spec facility and decide it wants to locate there.

“A lot of people come in looking for an existing building,” said Link CEO Joe Max Higgins.

Higgins says the 100,000-square-foot facility would feature rock floors, a standard roof and exterior masonry that would extend to within approximately eight feet of the roof. It would sit on the new four-lane access road that runs adjacent to PACCAR and will be on that company’s truck-delivery route.

“And it will have the capacity to double in size if need be,” Higgins said.

Link officials have not set a timetable for filing the space once its completed. Tenant possibilities range from a new, separate industry or a supplier to either SeverCorr, PACCAR or Eurocopter.

“Most likely it will be a supplier to one of those three,” Higgins said. “None of PACCAR’s suppliers are local. So that’s a really strong possibility.”

And the building will not stop there.

“We’re not going to build just one of these,” Higgins said. “We’ve got six more potential sites in our industrial park.”

Not counting the spec facilities, Higgins says, “we’ve got four plants that are going to come out of the ground.”

The spec building plans and the other new facilities are a part of area economic development officials’ efforts to capitalize on the momentum created when the three big companies set up shop in Columbus.

Higgins estimates that by this time next year, Lowndes County will be the third highest-assessed county in the state as far as ad valorem taxes, ranking behind Hinds and Jackson counties.

“In the past five years, we’ve bought 2,500 acres of land for our industrial park,” Higgins said. “So instead of sitting in our rocking chair, we’re trying to find ways to push our chips to the middle.”

Spec facilities were a hot topic earlier this summer in Columbus’ Golden Triangle neighbor to the west, Starkville. Alderman Matt Cox said in a meeting of the City Council that a spec facility would do wonders for economic development in that city. Cox attended a round of economic development classes that highlighted just how competitive the process is to land a large project, and how communities need to be thoroughly prepared.

“In the past, you found land and marketed it,” Cox said. “Then, you had land and you developed the infrastructure. Now, it’s been taken a step further. The actual facility needs to be up and running.”

Changing the rules of the economic development recruitment game can be difficult at first, Cox acknowledges.

“But a lot of times, (prospects) are looking to eliminate communities in the first phase (of site selection),” he said. “So if a company says ‘We want to locate in the Southeast’ they look at cities with a certain population and other factors, and a spec facility often comes into play. So it’s possible that we could be out of the running before we even know that we’re being considered for something. That was a big adjustment and a big shock to all of us.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .


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