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State lawmakers approve Calisolar incentives package

 

Carmen K. Sisson

 

Columbus Lowndes Development Link CEO Joe Higgins was in a celebratory mood Friday night as he paced the stadium bleachers at Heritage Academy in Columbus. The Patriots were winning, and he had just scored a big victory as well -- the Mississippi Legislature''s passage of a $175 million incentive plan which will fund three major projects in the state, including one which promises to bring 951 jobs to Lowndes County.  

 

Higgins spent all day Thursday and Friday in Jackson, talking to legislators, trying to garner support for the bond request. It took nearly eight hours in special session at the state capital before legislators finally approved $75.25 million in bonds for Calisolar, a California-based solar silicon manufacturer, to build in Columbus.  

 

Calisolar plans to locate east of Industrial Park Road, directly behind Mitchell Beer Distributing, on 250-260 acres. The facility will be around a million square feet, more than twice the size of the Paccar plant and about half the size of the Severstal steel mill, both of which are already in the industrial park. The Link has been in talks with Calisolar since Aug. 27, 2010.  

 

The jobs, which will involve making silicon metal for use in automotive parts, consumer electronics and solar panels, will have an average salary of $40,000 to $50,000 per year. Officials at East Mississippi Community College are already working with the company to determine a personalized workforce training plan.  

 

Higgins had high praise Friday night for the Mississippi Development Authority, Gov. Haley Barbour and state lawmakers, saying a lot of hard work went into luring Calisolar to Columbus.  

 

"I''m just elated," Higgins said. "I think tomorrow, Lowndes County needs to wake up and pat itself on the back." 

 

John T. Correnti, former CEO of SeverCorr (now Severstal) of Columbus, has served as chairman of the company''s board of directors since 2010 and reportedly has maintained close ties with Mississippi. The company has been in negotiations with Ohio officials since April, but the deal fell through in July when company representatives told the Mansfield News Journal in Mansfield, Ohio, that they were unable to meet a September construction deadline to qualify for a $275 million federal loan guarantee.  

 

Higgins said Lowndes County''s ability to meet Calisolar''s high power needs (nearly 170 MW of power, or roughly 40 MW more than the entire city of Columbus), along with Mississippi''s status as a right-to-work (non-union) state and the willingness of legislators to pass an attractive incentive package, may have tipped the balance in the Magnolia State''s favor.  

 

"I think what probably separates us from some of the other towns is we know what to do, we know how to do it and we actually follow through," Higgins said.  

 

According to The Associated Press, Correnti gave legislators another explanation for why Calisolar chose Mississippi: "The reason we''re coming here, and I''m going to be frank, is the Mississippi farm boys and the farm girls," Correnti said, according to The AP. "I wouldn''t trade a Mississippi farm boy or farm girl for any Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, South American." 

 

AP reports that details of Mississippi''s incentive package include a $59.5 million loan for the building and equipment, with Lowndes County retaining ownership of the building and leasing it to them. The state is also providing $15.75 million for infrastructure and workforce training.  

 

An additional 1,000 construction jobs are expected to benefit local residents, Higgins said, with jobs paying as much as $2,000 per week and possibly beginning this fall. Survey work, soil boring and other engineering and environmental work is already underway at the site.  

 

Also included in the legislature''s approved package Friday was $100 million for HCL CleanTech, a bio-technology company, which plans to build its headquarters in Olive Branch and construct a research and development center in Grenada. Three additional plants would be located in Booneville, Hattiesburg and Natchez. That project would create 800 jobs with an average salary of $67,000 plus benefits. 

 

Legislators also approved the expansion of a tax rebate program which will create 3,000 shipbuilding jobs at Huntington Ingalls in Pascagoula.  

 

Lowndes County District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders said all three projects will be a boon, even for counties not directly impacted.  

 

"A rising tide raises all the ships," Sanders said. "That''s what''s going to happen here. It''s going to help everybody in the state of Mississippi." 

 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state''s unemployment rate was 11.1 percent for July, and Lowndes County''s unemployment rate was 12.4 percent. The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, or approximately 14 million people. 

 

Associated Press Writer Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report.

 

Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment bill r. commented at 9/2/2011 6:49:00 PM:

Thank goodness. Our State legislature seems to have more common sense than our Federal Government.

 

Article Comment old lady commented at 9/6/2011 12:58:00 PM:

According to this newspaper, the federal government's green jobs program is helping to fund Calisolar.

 

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