January 30, 2013 10:26:42 AM
Venture capitalist John Correnti is among the investors connected with a $1.1 billion steel mill headed for Mississippi -- Mississippi County in Arkansas.
The Associated Press reported Big River Steel LLC, will locate near Osceola, which is about 40 miles north of Memphis. The company says it will employ 525 people with an average salary of $75,000.
Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe announced Tuesday that the company's proposed plans would result in the "largest economic development deal in the state's history." Before the project can move forward, Arkansas legislators must approve $125 million in incentives.
Correnti, Big River Steel's CEO, praised government officials for helping him bring the steel mill to his home state.
"Arkansas's geographic location in the heart of the markets we intend to serve, the state's well-developed transportation infrastructure, as well as the availability of reliable electrical power and the 'can-do attitude' of the government officials in Little Rock, Mississippi County and Osceola make Arkansas a great place for Big River Steel to make its investment," Correnti said.
Although Correnti was instrumental in helping to bring Severstal, Mississippi's largest steel mill, to Lowndes County, he has been at the helm of several stalled developments in north Mississippi.
"This is the same steel mill Correnti was going to bring to West Point," District 1 Supervisor and board president Harry Sanders noted. "They said they were going to put this in West Point but they couldn't work out a deal with TVA over electric rates. So Correnti stomped his feet and raised hell and said they would take it elsewhere. So it looks like Arkansas is where they went."
In September 2011, Correnti, along with other members of the investment firm Global Principal Partners and other investors, announced plans for Calisolar (later Silicor Materials) to locate a two-phase $600 million investment that would create a silicon metals production facility as well as a silicon purification plant. The deal promised nearly 1,000 high-paying jobs with it. During a special legislative session, state lawmakers approved $75 million in incentives for the deal and Lowndes County promised an additional $19 million. After missing startup deadlines due to lack of financing, the deal died Dec. 31 when Correnti and the investors refused to place $150,000 in escrow.
Add to the list a failed rebar plant in both Lowndes County and Amory and the rumored steel mill in West Point, and Correnti's failed projects have left a bad taste in the mouths of some local officials.
After negotiations failed in Columbus, Silicor officials said the company was looking to locate elsewhere in Mississippi.
Officials with Mississippi Development Authority would not comment on where the company was looking to build its facility. The MDA also said that while no incentive money had been given to Silicor, the MDA's incentives remained on the table if the company found a suitable site in the state and got its financing together.
But Correnti and other investors could have difficulties obtaining financing. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves wants to limit the amount of incentives the MDA can issue.
"The Mississippi Senate passed a bill last year that would have limited the amount of funds the Mississippi Development Authority could loan to businesses without legislative approval or oversight from the current level of $468 million to $50 million," Reeves said. "Unfortunately, the House Ways and Means Committee did not consider the measure. "I will push for this bill again because I believe there should be legislative oversight into large economic development projects.
"I am comfortable giving MDA the authority to spend up to $50 million without the Legislature's input to help close deals and bring jobs to Mississippi. I do not believe MDA needs $468 million at their disposal through the Industry Incentive Revolving Loan Fund to give to whatever projects they feel the need to fund. I voted against the Revolving Loan Fund when I was a member of the Bond Commission because I had those same concerns."
Gov. Phil Bryant has also suggested the state stop giving incentives for start up companies, especially green energy companies.
Golden Triangle Development Link CEO Joe Max Higgins, who worked on the Silicor deal since its inception, did not return phone calls by press time.
1. Coach Marsh will be remembered COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY