June 19, 2014 11:07:22 AM
Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins has a plan to kick start economic development in Oktibbeha County: open a new 300-plus-acre industrial park that will become the local focal point for manufacturing jobs and erase years of failed industrial enticement.
The LINK has 326 acres of combined parcels near the Miss. Highway 25 and Miss. Highway 182 bypass under option until November 2015 and would need about $10 million to acquire the properties; perform due diligence studies, such as boundary, wetland and soil surveys; and provide road and infrastructure improvements to get the entire site ready for tenants.
Combined, the new industrial site is expected to offer more than 1 million square feet in facility space.
To fund the project, Higgins group will ask Oktibbeha County supervisors and Starkville aldermen to push forward bonds -- $5 million from both entities -- previously approved earlier this year and held for major economic development packages.
While Lowndes County has seen continued economic development successes in terms of industrial enticement and Clay County landed a significant commitment from Yokohama Tire Corporation last year, Oktibbeha County has seen few large-scale manufacturers invest in the community.
Last month, William Fruth, president of the Florida-based economic research firm POLICOM Corporation, told area representatives that the Golden Triangle could become one of the nation's most dynamic small-area economies in the nation if it invests in workforce development and establishes a new development site that ties in with work and research done at Mississippi State University.
The county's current sites have experienced varying degrees of success. The Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority gave away its last piece of land in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park to C Spire last year for the company to construct a data center, while the LINK helped facilitate the arrival of a filing products manufacturer to property adjacent to George M. Bryan Airport. At the same time, Cornerstone Park, a separate industrial site south of the Miss. Highway 25 and Miss, Highway 12 intersection, struggled with marketability issues due to electric shortcomings.
While 4-County Power Association forecasted a possible increase in electricity at Cornerstone in 2017, Higgins said numerous infrastructure items are already present at the proposed site. For example, the area, which would be half served by 4-County and Starkville Electric Department, can already receive about 12 megawatts. That same amount of electricity could power six Eurocopter locations or two-thirds of Paccar's demand.
"Starkville has not succeeded in the past, in my opinion, because it has not had any products to sell, it has not had the leadership to sell them and it hasn't had the vision. It's a recognized fact. We're hoping to correct all three of those with this project," Higgins said after unveiling the plans. "Everyone wants to ask, 'Why can't we get what Columbus is getting or what Clay County is getting?' You're not even set up to be in that arena, and we're going to change it."
If funded, the project could enter its design phase by late summer or early fall, Higgins said.
Oktibbeha County could be on the hook for more economic development-specific expenses in the future as the LINK announced initial plans to construct a $38 million facility to focus on Golden Triangle workforce training and development initiatives through East Mississippi Community College.
The proposed 133,690-square-foot facility will triple EMCC's current manufacturing, technology and engineering program's work bays.
To fund that project, LINK representatives will ask Golden Triangle supervisors for varying levels of funding support. Specifically, Higgins said Lowndes County will be asked to contribute $10 million toward EMCC's potential debt service across 20 years. Oktibbeha County, however, will only be asked to provide $2.5 million.
State-level and federal dollars are also expected to subsidize the workforce development project's final price tag.
LINK representatives will seek the local funding from county coffers next month.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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