Our view: Tempered optimism: Columbus is not Sourpussville

July 31, 2013 10:07:01 AM



Although Stuart Millner is new to town, he seems to have a good feel for the psychological implications of the job before him. 


Millner, president and CEO of Stuart B. Millner and Associates, met with the media Tuesday afternoon at the Omnova property in east Columbus. Earlier this month, his company closed on the purchase of the 92-acre facility.  


For those who have watched in dismay as Omnova's operations phased out, as cause for optimism. One might have suspected Millner would have seized that glimmer of hope to make grand predictions and outrageous promises about his company's plans. 


Instead, he did something even better: He gave a realistic assessment, made no big promises and admitted that it is unlikely the facility will ever again produce the number of jobs Omnova provided in its heyday. He acknowledged there is much work to be done in converting the facility to a multi-tenant facility, focusing primarily on light manufacturing and warehousing. 


While he recognized that breathing new life into the facility creates excitement, he doesn't see himself as the city's industrial savior. 


"I've got to meet an awful lot of people and every time we say that we bought this project, their eyes light up," he said. "They say it is great. I don't want to make us out to be a hero because I never even thought about that in the beginning. We had no idea. We just saw an opportunity. Everybody seems to think that for this part of the world, it is really needed." 


Perhaps as important as anything else, Millner seemed to have grasped the impact a resurgent industrial park has on the way the city sees itself. 


While noting the success of the Golden Triangle Development Link in bringing in industry, he correctly noted that none of those developments came to the city.  


While the city does benefit through such things as retail sales, the city has not profited from the huge infusion of tax revenue that the county has enjoyed. Certainly, plans for the Omnova facility won't rival that of Severstal or the new Yokohama plant soon to break ground in Clay County, but it does represent tangible and visible progress. 


"This property and this part of town is sort of an orphan," Millner astutely observed. 


He knows that the conversion will take time and that more than half of the parcel is undeveloped. He said the facility could produce 200 to 300 jobs eventually. 


So it's not a miracle.  


But it is cause for optimism, a commodity that has been in short supply in Columbus recently. 


"I think there is a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm that should be brought to everybody in this town, that this is not Sourpussville, Mississippi," Millner said. 


That, in itself, is a big step in the right direction.