May 8, 2013 5:32:02 AM
Carl Smith - firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors is positioning the county to be ready for future economic development opportunities, officials say.
The board unanimously approved a bond-intent notice Monday to issue $5 million for acquiring land, updating infrastructure, constructing facilities and development planning for future Golden Triangle Development LINK-recommended projects.
The board is not yet issuing the bond, but supervisors and economic development officials say it could come in handy as incentives if a large company wants to develop in Oktibbeha County. A large project is not yet in the works for the county.
LINK officials are expected to ask the Starkville Board of Aldermen for a similar resolution in June.
Residents have until 10 a.m. June 3 to try and force the issue to the ballots. If 20 percent of the county's population or 1,500 residents - whichever is less - file a written protest with the county, the issue would then be put up for a referendum.
Joey Deason, Oktibbeha County's representative with the LINK, said governing bodies in Lowndes and Clay counties have approved similar measures for economic development. The county is more likely to attract major developments, he said, if it has the flexing power to do so.
"This puts us on the same playing field and gets us in line with the other counties that are part of the push tri-county economic development. We've been waiting for years to get into the game, and I think this does it." Board Vice President John Montgomery said. "It's definitely priming the pump and getting things moving toward getting jobs for our county."
A recent $130 million incentive package was approved by the state legislature which helped lure Yokohama Tire Corporation to set up production in West Point. The four-phase project is expected to bring in at least 2,000 jobs by 2023. Deason called that economic development efforts proof of how local- and state-level incentives can help transform a county's position as a job attractor.
"Whenever the state level sees you want to put skin into the game, they're willing to assist in a greater way. I think in today's economic development market, you have to be creative. This gives us major flexing power for infrastructure and other elements needed to attract game-changing developments," Deason said. "This shows a buyer (a county) is ready and you have all the tools required. These economic bonds put us in the position so we can be creative and allow us to put our name on the marquee and say we're open for business."
Board President Orlando Trainer said the county would look at every option to service the bonds if issued, including examining monies in its existing budget and debating a small millage increase. Payments could be spread over 20-25 years, he said, requiring, about a 1.5-mill increase on ad valorem rates.
Any proposed developments seeking incentives would be rigorously vetted by both the county and the LINK, Trainer said.
"Quite naturally, you wouldn't do this for just any development in particular. We're looking for industries that would bring substantial resources and job creation to the table and make a major impact in Oktibbeha County," he said. "I think people understand that if we get the right type of investment to warrant us pursuing this, we're going to be lined up for a substantial return and a great return on investment. In my mind, I'm looking for something that creates maybe 500-plus jobs."
In preparation for game-changing development projects, Trainer said the county and city must work together to identify industrial sites and bring its infrastructure up to par. Cornerstone Park, he said, is one such site worthy of investment.
"If it takes a little extra investment to make Cornerstone reach its full potential, I think it would only help the county in the long run. I don't think we'd be limited from utilizing some effort there, but we haven't discussed that in detail," he said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch