August 3, 2014 12:18:20 AM
The governing bodies of Oktibbeha County and Starkville could pass a combined $10 million in economic bonds that will help construct a shovel-ready industrial park to help lure manufacturing jobs.
Supervisors will have the first crack at their $5 million commitment to the Golden Triangle Development LINK-backed project 9 a.m. Monday, while aldermen could approve a resolution of support 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A rumored 2 mills of ad valorem taxes would be required to help fund debt service, but officials have not publicly said how much taxes would increase if both boards pass their respective bonds.
Supervisors are expected to support the move, but it is uncertain how the board of aldermen will handle the issue since two of its members -- Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins and Ward 2 Alderman Lisa Wynn -- voted against entering into a new economic development contract with the LINK last month. If a coalition forms between Perkins, Wynn and Henry Vaughn, the Ward 6 alderman who routinely votes with Perkins on a variety of city issues, then the trio would only need one more vote to block the issuance.
Perkins continued to say he was not in favor of any tax increase in Thursday's Starkville Audit and Budget Committee meeting, even though economic development bonds were not specifically discussed. After a recent special-call meeting, the vice mayor declined to comment on the bond proposal and industrial plan, saying the matter had not yet come before him at the board table.
Oktibbeha County is hard pressed to attract major industry like its tri-county neighbors, LINK officials say, because the county has no shovel-ready sites to offer prospective suitors. An independent economic analysis released earlier this year advised the LINK to secure a new, 500-acre site that would help improve low- and middle-class job opportunities, as the county is successful in attracting research and academic agents tied to Mississippi State University.
The LINK has 326 acres of combined parcels near the Miss. Highway 25 and Miss Highway 182 bypass under option until November 2015 and needs about $10 million to formally acquire the properties, perform due-diligence studies and provide road and infrastructure improvements to prepare the site for future marketing.
Combined, the new industrial site is expected to offer more than 1 million square feet in facility space and contain at least two parcels zoned for commercial use.
Both Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors President Orlando Trainer and Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman have lobbied for the new industrial park and called its construction a game-changer for a county that has continually lagged behind its tri-county neighbors in creating manufacturing jobs.
"We're at a critical point in terms of economic development where we need to make a major leap of faith. It's like this: If you want something, you're going to have to pay for it and take a leap of faith to do it," Trainer said. "I'm doing what's best for the county by supporting this, and I think the new park puts all the puzzle pieces together. I don't anticipate there being a lot of discussion at the table (Monday) as to why we need to do this."
"There are times every so often when it's important for a community to rally together and do the hard work of making progress. This is one of those times; we cannot miss this opportunity," Wiseman said last week. "It's a reasonable expectation that this site will set the table for hundreds of millions of dollars in new industrial development and hundreds, if not thousands, of new, quality jobs adding to the local economy over the next generation."
The end results of industrial enticement could mitigate the effects of a tax increase in the long run, Trainer said.
Since acquiring the LINK's services, Starkville and Oktibbeha County have seen modest victories in terms of economic development projects. The Mill at MSU and Cotton Mill Market Place, two retail projects in the developing Russell Street corridor -- finally went from the conceptual phase to construction after years of delays and amendments; C Spire officials committed last year to build a major data-processing site at the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park on the last Oktibbeha County Economic Development Authority-owned parcel; and the LINK helped facilitate a filing products manufacturer's move to property adjacent to George M. Bryan Airport.
The organization also secured funding from Oktibbeha, Lowndes and Clay counties this year to help service debt associated with a significant East Mississippi Community College workforce development center that will locate near the Golden Triangle Regional Airport.
But without the new industrial park, the county is unable to lure a large-scale manufacturer, even one well short of Clay County's Yokohama Tire Corporation commitment, to Oktibbeha County, officials say.
The county possesses numerous vacant parcels at Cornerstone Park, an under-utilized development south of the Miss. Highway 25 and Miss. Highway 12 bypass, but the site's power supply cannot handle more than the residential demands of a nearby community.
While 4-County Power Association forecasted a possible increase in electricity at Cornerstone in 2017, LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins previously said the proposed industrial site can already receive about 12 megawatts. That same amount of electricity, he said in June, could power six Eurocopter locations or two-thirds of Paccar's demand.
There is also no assurance 4-County will increase Cornerstone's load capabilities, and making those improvements require significant investments by the company, including feeder lines, substations and other electrical terminals.
"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 last month after unveiling the industrial park proposal. "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."
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch