Nearly 1000 New Jobs For Area
The Lowndes County Board of Supervisors met Monday for their early March meeting and was greeted by good news from Link CEO Joe Higgins about the possibility of nearly a thousand new jobs for the Lowndes County area.
The supervisors approved a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) for a fee-in-lieu property and school tax reduction and to invest possibly up to $2.9 million in infrastructure work for the nearly 250 acres the plant will be constructed on (Phase 1 and 2 together) at The Industrial Park. The company is headed by John Correnti, who brought SeverCorr (now Severstal) to the park. The name was changed from the initial Calisolar to SiliCorr because, as Higgins pointed out, “we won’t be making solar panels” as many originally suspected. As Higgins said, the company will be ” taking gravel, wood chips, etc…and melt that gravel into a 99 percent pure silicon product. That’s Phase 1. That’s what they’re gonna manufacture. That product goes in alloy for wheels, women’s cosmetics, precursor for computer screens and cell phones and a whole lot of products we use everyday.”
A separate plan for Phase 2 is underway, but Higgins said the company isn’t sure how much they’ll actually invest in the Phase 2 plan because they’re looking at possible cost-cutting measures at the moment. Total, a $500 million investment is being planned by the company.
Mississippi legislators kicked in a promise of $60 million in incentives from the state about six months ago. Higgins explained about a statute that allows Lowndes County to give a company a 10-year reduction in taxes (school and property) as long as they invest at least $100 million in capital investments. The agreement will include safeguards that protect taxpayers in case the company doesn’t come to fruition or make good on its plans. These types of safeguards have been implemented in the past few years in new development scenarios involving taxpayer incentives, especially after Mississippi taxpayers took a huge hit in the failed beef plant fiasco a few years back.
Higgins felt confident that construction of Phase 1 would begin in June of this year and would take about 18 months. Around 200 permanent jobs are promised with Phase 1 with an average annual pay of $45,000. Construction workers building the plant could number up to 1100 (For 18 months, then an additional amount of months if Phase 2 construction begins at the end of this year, as planned). Phase 2 could bring as much as an additional 750 permanent jobs. Higgins said that the property site for Phase 2 is secure and purchasing would begin when plans are solidified.
Higgins stressed the fact that penalties and taxpayer safeguards in the agreement were a vital part of this project. If the company fails to hire the number of workers spelled out in the agreement, the threshhold applies and penalties would go in affect, meaning they would have to pay a bigger percentage of taxes. He also said that after all agreements have been fulfilled and, after 10 years, the company would be able to buy the site property for $1 dollar (from the county) and, of course, would begin paying full school and property taxes at that time.
County Grants Tax Exemption to Eka Chemicals
Before Higgins brought the good news about a new plant coming to the area, attorney Gordon Flowers, representing Eka Chemicals, came before the board seeking a tax exemption on a $22 million project that has been recently completed at the plant. Flowers said that Eka had previously came before the board in 2007 announcing plans for the project and the supervisors gave a go-ahead to tax-exemption plans at that time after the project was completed. Flowers said that company officials came back before the board in January 2010 and announced that $17 million of project work had been completed at that time. With the project fully completed, he said that company officials are seeking a tax exemption on $13,592,000.
The supervisors unanimously approved the exemption for 10 years on ad valorem taxes for the company. Flowers, who brought along Eka Site Manager Tim Mayo and Site Comptroller Travis Tumberlinson, said that the company had not added any new jobs recently, but was proud to announce that they had not layed anyone off during the recent economic downturn.
Later, when Joe Higgins spoke about the SiliCorr project, he explained the difference between the Eka Chemical ad valorem tax exemption and the fee-in-lieu exemption for SiliCorr. Under the tax exemption for Eka Chemicals, the company receives a full ad valorem tax break for 10 years, but will still pay the full amount Lowndes County schools taxes for that period. Under the fee-in-lieu, SiliCorr will pay about a third of those taxes to both the county and the schools, with the schools receiving a larger slice at about 55 percent to 45 percent of the total tax amount collected going to the county. He said that Tax Collector Greg Andrews would receive that check (for taxes) and then determine the amount that goes to the schools and then the county.
In other county
Golden Triangle Planning and Development District Project Analyst George Crawford came before the board seeking approval of invoices for the Stark Aerospace and Severstal Katrina CDBG project. The supervisors approved.
County Administrator Ralph Billingsley brought a request from a citizen that had contacted District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith about possible removal of a fallen tree which is blocking Kincaid Creek near property at Pirates Cove. Board President Harry Sanders recommended that Billingsley contact the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, who Billingsley said had referred the situation to the Tennessee River Valley Water Management Association. The supes want to be sure the Corp gives permission to do work on a navigable stream (Kincaid Creek) before the county would consider taking any kind of action. The supervisors approved the resolution to look into the matter further.
Billingsley also proposed the transfer of ownership of 862 acres of land west of the Golden Triangle Regional Airport to the Lowndes County Industrial Development Authority so they will have the ability to offer the land to an industrial prospect. The supervisors approved.
In addition, Billingsley told of a garden club’s plans to keep up and improve the looks of a small island that sits at the intersection of Highway 373 and Highway 50. MDOT has an agreement with the club. The property resides in District 2 Supervisor Bill Brigham’s district. The supervisors approved the entering of an agreement with the group to maintain the small island of property at the intersection.
The supervisors will meet again on Thursday morning, March 15 at 9 inside their boardroom at The Lowndes County Courthouse.