Tire plant, port operation to add 3,500 Mississippi jobs
Mississippi is set to land a $1.45 billion tire plant in Hinds County expected to bring 2,500 jobs, the largest economic development announcement for the area in a generation and one of the largest such projects of its kind in North America.
The state also is expecting to land a shipping operation at the State Port of Gulfport that would bring a $68 million investment and 1,000 jobs.
The two projects combined will be the single largest economic development announcement in the state's history, totaling 3,500 jobs and more than $1.5 billion in private investment to the state.
Gov. Phil Bryant on Wednesday called for a special session — within the current legislative session — to start at 8 a.m. Thursday to deal with requested state incentives for the projects.
Lawmakers will be asked to provide incentives for Continental Tire, locating in Hinds County, and Topship, LLC, expanding operations on the coast, in the coming days. Details of the incentives package have not been released, but lawmakers said they expect to be asked to approve state borrowing of about $275 million for both projects, plus other incentives.
Neither the governor's office nor the Mississippi Development Authority would confirm the reports, each saying they do not talk about economic development projects.
Senate Economic Development Chairman John Horhn, D-Jackson, said the project has the potential to positively impact the county, but he has concerns.
“I am, of course, concerned as to whether there would be significant diversity on the project in terms of contracting procurement and supplying the needs of the corporation. I’ve been in conversation with some of our state leaders in that regard, and I’m not quite satisfied that we’re there yet.”
Horhn said he hopes the deal with Continental will mimic Nissan’s, including the involvement of as many in-state companies as possible.
“Especially given the fact we’re in a county which is 70 percent African-American, I hope there’s some sensitivity to inclusion and diversity,” Horhn said. “ … We had more diversity in that project (Nissan) than any other project in the state’s history.”
Horhn also said it was his understanding the county will have a financial obligation to the project, but he could not specify how much.
The project will likely bring up a long-running debate about taxpayer incentives and breaks for big business.
Gov. Phil Bryant in his State of the State address last week broached that subject, saying "Mississippi's investments to incentivize industry have paid dividends to the state." He said a state "return-on-investment" report shows an $11 to $1 return for incentives spending.
"I have given you my assurance in the past and will pledge once more to be ever-vigilant with these hard-earned tax dollars," Bryant said. "... I will refuse any economic development project that will put your trust or the taxpayers' investment at risk."
The Associated Press first reported the details of the projects. The Clarion-Ledger learned of the Continental project in late 2014 and agreed to not publish anything until negotiations were complete so as not to threaten the deal.
The Continental operation is planned for a Hinds County megasite, which is referred to as the Norrell Road Site and sits along I-20 between Clinton and Bolton. According to sources familiar with the nearly two-year negotiation, MDA officials received a call from a site-selection consultant in February 2014, regarding a project that at that time called for 650 jobs.
That changed in late April 2014, when the same consultant said the company’s plans had grown to more than 1,000 jobs and that the 640-acre site in Hinds County had made the short list of final candidates, mainly because of its close proximity to a large labor pool.
The Clarion-Ledger first broke the news of an economic development project for this area in July 2014. Filings made at that time described a 5.2 million-square-foot area, including an industrial building and operations center, a 32-acre parking lot, 52.75 acres of dry detention ponds, a 14.5-acre wet detention pond and 9,500 linear feet of new railroad spur.
For comparison, Nissan's plant in Canton is 4.2 million square feet.
Continental was originally looking at two separate projects that the company had planned to locate at separate sites. However, Mississippi officials reportedly pitched the idea of a combining the project at the Hinds County megasite. This is believed to be a major reason Continental chose Mississippi.
The jobs created by both projects are expected to be relatively high-paying, with an average salary of $40,000 a year.
“I think it could be great for Hinds County," said state Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson. "It will create jobs. Hopefully, if we have people with jobs, it will stop some of this breaking into houses.”
The Hinds County legislative delegation, including House Speaker Philip Gunn, was briefed on the projects by state economic development leaders on Wednesday afternoon. Media was not allowed.
The maritime, inland shipping operation would be in Gulfport off the Industrial Seaway, with the company hoping to acquire state-owned property. Topship already has a small presence in the port.
The State Port Authority last year bought a former Huntington Ingalls facility on Seaway Road in Gulfport, as part of a long-term plan to create an “inland port.”
Creating an inland port linked with the Port of Gulfport was part of the original expansion plan of former Gov. Haley Barbour and port and local officials after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction of the port in 2005. The port has been undergoing a $570 million expansion with federal Community Development Block Grant Katrina recovery funds.
The project, approved by federal Housing and Urban Development in 2008, was supposed to create 1,300 jobs. But port job growth has been slow, and HUD has warned state leaders is could face sanctions if it doesn’t net those jobs soon after the project’s completion expected in 2017.
The pending inland port development deal would put the state well on its way to providing the required jobs for the port project.
"We've been waiting for a long time to see the port back up and fully operating," said Harrison County Supervisor Connie Rockco, who was at the state Capitol on Wednesday. "We've also got a casino coming in close by. I'm very excited about all these jobs. We are coming back."
The 116 acres is on the Industrial Seaway, several miles inland from the port, with interstate and rail access.
The two projects are not related, but lawmakers are expected to handle incentive packages jointly.