Higgins updates LINK projects, prospects

March 12, 2014 10:22:32 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Right now, there are five industrial or business prospects considering locations in Lowndes County, two in Oktibbeha County and two more in Clay County. 


One of those prospects could bring with it 70 to 80 job opportunities if it comes through, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins told the Columbus Rotary Club Tuesday. 


In September, Higgins said the economic development group had identified a site south of the new water tank on the west side of the Golden Triangle Regional Airport where a new speculative building, "spec building" for short, would likely be erected. A similar building was used to lure CalStar, a sustainable building material manufacture, to the Lowndes County area. With that will come more than 50 jobs. 


Since then, Higgins said there are four projects looking at the new site, but there isn't a spec building yet. The project, believed to create 70 to 80 jobs, may be a support company for the Paccar engine plant, Higgins said. 


"Worst-case scenario, we've got a $1.4 million expenditure to get the road over there where to we need to be. One of the projects carries with it 70 to 80 jobs, which we think we can get half that road cost in grant," Higgins said. "We're holding up the spec building, letting this company finalize its decisions and all the stuff they've got to do to come.  


"I'm not going to go to the (Lowndes County) supervisors and ask them for $1.4 million for a road to a spec building," Higgins added. "I will go and ask for $1.4 million to a 175,000 square foot support company for Paccar that'll create 70 to 80 jobs." 


Higgins said among the projects eying the Golden Triangle area are "everything from guns to food to steel." 


"Our book of business is not as deep as it once was," Higgins said. "Normally when I come here, I say we're working a $1.5 billion or $2 billion book of business," he said. "I think our book of business right now is about $600 million. One of those is a $300 million project. If our history stands to show us anything, we've got 45 percent chance of getting that, based on the size." 




Belk's success lured DICK's and Michael's 




Of more than 100 retail developments on the Highway 45 corridor that the LINK helped bring to the city, the latest high-profile project involves a DICK's Sporting Goods and a Michaels arts and crafts outlet set to open later this year. Construction on the building next to Belk to house the two retailers is ongoing due to a $1.25 million city-county tax increment financing agreement to demolish the University Mall building on Wilkins-Wise Road and improve infrastructure.  


So what brought two retailers people typically see in cities larger than Columbus? The success of Belk, Higgins said. The national average in sales for a retailer is a little more than $200 per square foot. Belk is running nearly double that amount. 


"(DICK's) looked at what (Belk) sells and made the decision that a men's sporting goods store next to a store that is women-oriented might work. Then they added the arts and crafts store on that as well," Higgins said. "The reason the Hutton Group chose to do that and the reason the company said yes was due primarily not to the fantastic business climate that we created here or all this good stuff is happening. It's because Belk was that kind of a draw. What that store generated per square foot is what got their attention."

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.