January 13, 2021 10:08:38 AM
Four years went by without a single contract from the Tennessee Valley Authority bringing new industry to Lowndes, Oktibbeha or Clay counties. The Mississippi Development Authority also wasn't pointing many clients in the region's direction for a while, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said.
"In the last several years, if we weren't making (a deal), it wasn't getting made," Higgins told the Columbus Rotary Club at its Tuesday meeting at Lion Hills Center.
Now the Golden Triangle is seeing interest from a range of industries, from food and solar power to product distribution companies, even with the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, Higgins said. TVA has also renewed its interest in the area.
"That's our niche, that's what we do: big land, big power, big water, big sewer. We're your first stop," Higgins said.
In February 2020, a month before the pandemic shut down most business and social activity, TVA awarded a contract to Origis Energy, a Florida-based renewable energy company, to build a 200-megawatt solar facility in west Lowndes County near the Golden Triangle Regional Airport. TVA is already considering a $150 million expansion of the site, Higgins said, as well as a $200 million project in Clay County and another in east Lowndes County near Caledonia.
TVA was supposed to award those three contracts in October and has not yet done so, Higgins said, but he expects a few more solar projects to come to the area.
Meanwhile, two distribution companies have approached the LINK with a desire to locate in the area, and one of them has purchased 41 acres in Lowndes County and will probably increase the purchase to about 60, Higgins said. The rise of online shopping due to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a boom in the distribution industry, which has not established itself in the Golden Triangle before, he said.
"Everybody's ordering everything on Amazon right now, more than they did before," he said.
Additionally, several food companies are mulling potential locations in the Golden Triangle, "everything from dry foods (to) things you put in your drinks," Higgins said, and this would be another relatively new industry in the area. He also said companies in the petrochemical and automotive industries are interested in the region.
The new North Star Industrial Park in Starkville is open, and "three or four real deals (are) looking there," Higgins said.
Peco Foods announced last week that it will close its Brooksville plant and expand the one in West Point, and many of the employees in Brooksville will be able to transfer to West Point, Higgins said.
"They might have a little bit of a drive, but they've still got a job opportunity," he said. "That's a project that no one really thinks about that probably at the end of the day will be somewhere between $100 million and $110 million in capital investment. We thought it was going to be about 300 jobs, but quite frankly it's closer to 400."
Prompted by a question from an audience member, Higgins said that in the past, a third of the LINK's prospects came from TVA, a third came from MDA, and the LINK sought out the remaining third itself. These days, companies are more likely to approach the LINK directly.
"We've kind of got a reputation and people know who we are," Higgins said. "On any given deal, we work it ourselves. These two distribution centers I'm talking about -- TVA didn't bring them and MDA didn't bring them. They came to see us."
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