May 23, 2013 10:42:03 AM
Carl Smith - [email protected]
Golden Triangle developers confirm Yokohama Tire Corporation considered locating in both Oktibbeha and Lowndes counties, but massive infrastructure needs took both counties out of the running.
Joey Deason, Oktibbeha County's representative with the Golden Triangle Development Link, said developers are working together to formulate a plan which will take land, improve its infrastructure access and make it shovel-ready for larger development projects in the future.
State, local and industrial leaders inked a deal in April to bring a four-phase, $1.2 billion project to the Clay County Prairie Belt Powersite. Once the first portion of the plant is constructed in 2015, the company is expected to create at least 500 jobs for bus and truck tire manufacturing. The entire four-step project could create at least 2,000 jobs by 2023.
Numerous communities inquired with economic development consultants for the projects, Deason and Link CEO Joe Max Higgins said, but most, including Lowndes and Oktibbeha counties, were not ready to handle such a massive project from an infrastructure standpoint.
Oktibbeha County was primarily considered because of its strong, quality growth, Higgins said.
As developers worked the project, other physical needs changed from early ballpark figures. Higgins said land requirements grew from 260 acres to approximately 500; power requirements increased from 9 megawatts to 40; and the sewage need spiked from 500 to 1.7 million gallons. West Point, he said, emerged as the preferred site in the Golden Triangle because of its large sewage capacity.
"The projects decide where they will go, not us developers," Higgins said. "So many people think this is a bunch of us with cigars and whiskey in a backroom going, 'Hey, let's do this.' Companies and consultants are sophisticated; you can't fool them by saying you have infrastructure or capacity when you don't. The water will find its level; it will go where it needs to go. The most important thing right now is we have three players to look at in the Golden Triangle."
As far as getting Starkville and Oktibbeha County sites shovel-ready, the Link is working closely with city and county officials to determine the best course of action for its current sites. The county previously passed an intent notice to issue economic development bonds which could be used to develop a location if a major industry wants to locate in the area. Only Link vetted and approved projects will be presented to area leaders for consideration with the proposed bonds.
Currently, three main development sites exist in Oktibbeha County: the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park, the Starkville Industrial Park and Cornerstone Park.
"We're determining how many acres we have and then what capacity we have with water, sewer, electricity and gas," Deason said. "We're then looking at transportation access. When we get all of that information gathered, we'll sit down to determine where we want to take that asset and move forward. In advance, when we may not have a project on our hands, we still may decide we can go forward with infrastructure improvements to make a site more attractive. That's something we'll have to decide together as a community if we're willing to explore."
Link officials are quick to point out that the entire Golden Triangle will feel residual effects from Yokohama's large Clay County investment. Even though the tire company did not locate in Oktibbeha County, Deason said the local businesses will be involved in construction and supply efforts. Those and future, permanent employees will shop in Starkville's stores, eat in its restaurants and consider living here because of the high quality of life, he said.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch