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LINK unveils plans for 'communiversity'

 

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Communiversity facility to be built near Paccar in Lowndes County is pictured.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Communiversity facility to be built near Paccar in Lowndes County is pictured. Photo by: Courtesy image

 

Carl Smith

 

MAYHEW -- Golden Triangle Development LINK officials on Wednesday unveiled plans for a $38 million facility that will increase East Mississippi Community College's workforce development capabilities and help position the area as a manufacturing powerhouse. 

 

Billed as a "Communiversity" by LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins, the 133,690-square-foot, three-story structure will house 15 manufacturing, technology and engineering educational bays -- triple the amount currently offered at EMCC -- on a 12-acre site near the Golden Triangle Regional Airport previously donated to the school. 

 

The facility will also contain dining services, two computer workstations, eight classrooms and resource and seminar space, while providing administrative offices and an additional 14,000 square feet for lease. 

 

A large display room is expected to house staples of Golden Triangle manufacturing, Higgins said. 

 

LINK representatives will approach all three counties next month in search of local funding commitments for EMCC since the school will facilitate debt payments across 20 years. Higgins said the LINK will ask Lowndes County for a $10 million commitment, while Oktibbeha County and Clay County supervisors will be asked to foot a $2.5 million and $1 million bill, respectively. 

 

Governing boards for all three counties have passed intent notices for economic development bonds, but those are not expected to fund the building's construction, Higgins said, thereby allowing each county to save those monies for industrial enticement. 

 

Requests for Communiversity funding are tentatively scheduled for July 10 in Clay County, July 15 in Lowndes County and July 21 in Oktibbeha County. 

 

State-level and federal funding measures are also expected to alleviate the financial burden on Golden Triangle county governments. For example, Higgins said $8 million approved by the Mississippi Legislature this term can be used on the project. 

 

EMCC officials said the project, if fully funded, could enter its construction phase in August 2015 and take two years at the most to complete. 

 

In May, William Fruth, president of the Florida-based economic research firm POLICOM Corporation, told Golden Triangle representatives that the area has the potential to become a dynamic, small-area economy if leaders would invest in efforts concentrating on workforce training. 

 

About 28,000 of the tri-county area's 84,000 working-age residents were not looking for employment due to a lack of skills and a preference for entitlement support over upward mobility issues associated with entry-level, minimum wage jobs, his report stated. 

 

To solve the issue, Fruth suggested the region create a facility similar to the proposed LINK project, one that would house programs that encourage chronically unemployed residents to acquire skillsets and provide education for expected jobs. 

 

 

 

Oktibbeha research park 

 

Fruth's report also called on the LINK to create a new, large-scale research park in Oktibbeha County, one that would partner with the university's research wing. 

 

Higgins announced Wednesday that the LINK has 360 acres of combined parcels under option near the Highway 25 and Highway 182 bypass. To fully develop the site, economic developers are expected to ask Oktibbeha County supervisors and Starkville aldermen to move forward with $10 million in combined economic development bonds in August. 

 

All three counties must first contract with the LINK for economic development services next month before the workforce development and research park projects can move forward.

 

Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch

 

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