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Clean Energy and Rural Growth Surge in Mississippi


Community leaders in the Magnolia State are getting down to business by creating new economic growth tools that are garnering national, and even international, attention.

Mississippi is adopting policies to attract clean energy companies and create green collar jobs in the state. In rural areas, community leaders are getting down to business by creating new economic growth tools that are yielding national and even international attention.

Building on strong 3rd quarter results, Mississippi closed out 2010 with state-assisted economic development projects that are yielding nearly $4 billion in new investment and creating more than 6,800 new jobs.

Mississippi started off 2011 with a bang: On the first business day of the new year (January 4), Mississippi legislators passed a stimulus bill for solar manufacturer Stion Solar Panels so it could open a new plant in Hattiesburg. The bill, expected to be signed by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, grants Stion a $75 million loan through the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund. The loan is to be repaid to the state, with interest, in seven to ten years.

Mississippi legislators voted in favor of the project because they saw the potential for it to become a major economic boost, good for employment and potentially drawing more clean energy industry businesses to the area in the future.

“This announcement is further proof that Mississippi is an ideal location for clean energy companies to locate and expand,” said Gov. Haley Barbour.

In addition to the loan and other incentives, Stion is receiving assistance through Mississippi’s 2010 Clean Energy Incentive Program, which allows the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) to certify companies that manufacture systems or components used to generate clean, renewable or alternative energy, including nuclear, solar, wind and hydro-generation companies.

The program provides qualifying companies with a 10-year exemption from state income and franchise taxes, as well as a sales tax exemption to establish a plant or expand an existing production facility. To qualify, businesses must commit to invest a minimum of $50 million and create 250 full-time jobs.

Stion, a California-based company, plans to open a 100-megawatt solar panel production facility at an initial investment of $500 million. The company plans to lease about 300,000 feet in the former Sunbeam appliance factory. The project is expected to create 1,000 new jobs over the next six years. Average pay is expected to be $43,000.

Stion was attracted to Mississippi for many reasons, including financial incentives and the state’s strong manufacturing base and workforce.

“Together, the state of Mississippi, Forrest County, and the city of Hattiesburg offer a business-friendly location with a strong resource base for manufacturing,” said Chet Farris, Stion’s president and CEO. “Our expansion in Hattiesburg is an integral part of our capital-efficient scale-up plan. The cost and time-to market advantage of building here will provide a significant competitive advantage.”

Stion, a start-up solar panel manufacturer that was founded in 2006, has been nationally recognized as one of the most innovative eco-startups, being selected to the 2010 Opportunity Green 25 Business Startup Competition and receiving an honor in the 2010 GoingGreen Silicon Valley 100, which recognizes companies with game-changing approaches and technologies that are likely to disrupt existing markets and entrenched players. In addition, last June, Taiwan Semiconductor invested $50 million in Stion and obtained a license to the company’s technology, so you could see Stion panels under two brands.

While Stion is the first thin-film solar panel factory to be built in Mississippi, they are certainly not the only clean energy companies that have been drawn to the state.

In 2010, the state gave $54 million in loans and grants to solar tech company Twin Creeks Technologies, $75 million to biofuels producer KiOR, and gave $44 million to energy-efficient building solutions manufacturer Soladigm, which all announced they would be locating their production facilities in Mississippi.

In May 2010, Twin Creeks broke ground on a solar panel factory in Senatobia, Miss., making its crystalline silicon photovoltaics, that is expected to bring 500 jobs to the area over five years. As part of the deal, Twin Creeks Technologies will invest $175 million, according to the MDA. The factory is expected to be completed by the end of first quarter 2011. The company was the first in the state to take advantage of Mississippi’s new Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative.

Biofuels product KiOR will be locating its first of three full-scale biofuel production facilities in Mississippi—investing $500 million, plus $85 million in direct local purchases and wages, and creating 1,000 jobs.

San Jose, Calif,-based Soladigm announced it was locating its first full-scale production facility in DeSoto County. The plant will produce the company’s highly energy-efficient dynamic glass and will employ more than 300 people.

Ground was broken on Mississippi Power’s $2.4 billion, 582-megawatt clean coal technology plant, which will utilize the state’s abundance lignite resources to generate power, with far less emissions than traditional pulverized coal plants.

If these clean energy investments are a signal of things to come—it is surely that Mississippi will continue to work to attract clean energy companies and create greener jobs in the state. These efforts will not only help the state diversify its energy platform to meet future energy demands, but will also help it to remain competitive in a rising green economic future.

 

ECONOMIC GARDENING TAKES ROOT IN GRENADA

Several rural communities in Mississippi are taking great strides to make a mark on Mississippi’s economic development map, garnering state and even national and international attention.

Located in North Mississippi, Grenada County is located at the center of the state’s most important transportation corridor, midway between Memphis, Tennessee, and Jackson.

With a rich manufacturing history over the decades and a highly skilled workforce, companies are attracted to Grenada due to its highly qualified workforce, strategic location in the southeast, and low cost of operations. Currently over 32 percent of the employment is in manufacturing with a labor force of over 52,000.

In 2010, recognizing the need for local economic development tools and a business assistance platform, Grenada created its first Economic Development District (EDD) with a goal to attract new companies, create new jobs, and transform its rural community.

Since then and during one of the worst recessions the community has ever seen, the EDD announced 3 existing business expansions that resulted in the creation of 85 direct jobs and an estimated 56 indirect jobs for Grenada over the next 3 years.

Part of its success has stemmed from the creation of the EDD’s first Economic Gardening Program, a tool designed to encourage job creation and investment through support of entrepreneurs and small businesses. The program offers market intelligence, networking venues, and infrastructure development for entrepreneurial entities.

Pioneered in Littleton, Colorado in 1982, economic gardening is an “inside out” approach to economic development that focuses on job creation through direct support of local entrepreneurial companies.

“Economic gardening brings a balance to our economic development efforts by helping us create jobs while supporting local entrepreneurs,” said Pablo Diaz, Executive Director of the Grenade County EDD. “The County and City governments are to be commended for their full support of this initiative, which I believe will prove indispensable for Grenada’s long-term economic health.”

Since its inception, the program has served 5 existing small companies and six entrepreneurs. Three of the entrepreneurs opened new businesses and created 17 jobs in the community. The EDD and Grenada gained national attention in June of 2010 when its gardening program was featured at the 8th International Economic Gardening Conference for being one of the few rural communities with an active economic gardening program in America.

According to Gary Swoope, executive director of the MDA, Grenada has come a long way in a short period of time.

“By being innovative and adapting to market conditions fast, the EDD has made great progress and that is being demonstrated by the recognition shown to the EDD by its peers around the state and the country,” said Swoope.

The EDD also received a Community Development Award by the Mississippi Economic Development Council for its economic development strategic plan and an Excellence in Economic Development Award by the International Economic Development Council for the EDD’s new website: www.grenadameansbusiness.com.

 

WALTHALL COUNTY REAPS A BONANZA OF EXPANSIONS

With a population of only 15,000 it might be easy to overlook rural Walthall County, located in southwest Mississippi. However, according to Walthall economic development officials—more than 600,000 people live within 55 miles of Tylertown, the county’s only incorporated town, and the population base within 25, 35, and 45 miles exceeds communities many times its size, which gives Walthall the ability to provide a quality workforce to meet the needs of almost any size company.

Over 20 years ago, Walthall County and the Town of Tylertown created the Walthall County Economic Development Authority (EDA). Since its inception, the Walthall EDA has helped with the construction of several industrial buildings for new companies and aided in the expansion efforts of local manufacturers.

“The Walthall EDA’s efforts to create a healthy business climate have continued to pay off, including two notable locations/expansions in 2010,” said Pam Keaton, economic developer of the Walthall County EDA.

In 2010, Brigade Manufacturing Inc. signed leases with the Tylertown and the Walthall EDA for 120,000 square feet of industrial space. Brigade produces garments for the U.S. military and commercial markets, aggressively pursuing contracts for shirts, coats, military battle dress, clothes for military recruits and postal uniforms.

“The skilled workforce available in the area for our type of industry is second to none,” said Alton Spurlock, Brigade’s President. “That’s one of the primary reasons we located here. Our employees are our most valuable asset and will give us the results that we need to provide our customers with high-quality and affordable products.”

Currently, the company has over 80 employees and after receiving grant funding for a building retrofit, the company expects to have around 250 employees.

“We are fortunate,” said Tylertown Mayor Ed Hughes. “With the economy being what it is, every community is competing for the few jobs available. The reality is, today we compete heavily for jobs, and that competition is not just from here, but also from overseas. The growth potential of Brigade makes it attractive to this area.”

Tylertown is an approved HUBZone that has proven to be beneficial to companies like Brigade that seek government contracts. The Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program helps small businesses in urban and rural communities gain preferential access to federal procurement opportunities.

As a sign of things to come to come, Brigade received two contracts from the government and the company has created specialty items for Cabelas, the world’s largest direct marketer of hunting, fishing, camping and related outdoor merchandise. Brigade was also designated an ISO 9001 manufacturer. The certification means that Brigade was audited and conforms to all international standards for quality. The designation could prove to be helpful in procuring future military and government uniform contracts.

Another announcement came in November 2010, when Kalencom, Inc. opened a world-class showroom in Tylertown. Just 18 months earlier, the company celebrated the official opening of Kalencom’s Tylertown facility for the manufacturing of soft-good jewelry packaging and specialty-sewn products.

Kalencom, founded in 1971, is a multi-faceted domestic and international manufacturer. The company’s marketing distribution concentrates in the U.S., Canada, Caribbean, South & Central America and Europe. Both the corporate headquarters and main plant are located in New Orleans in a four-story, 60,000 square foot facility. The company also utilizes five extensive manufacturing plant resources located in Asia, and additional sub-contracting facilities located both in the U.S. and overseas. Because of changes in world manufacturing costs, the company plans to shift some of overseas sewing to the Tylertown operation.

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