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Higgins: Columbus development outlook bleak compared to county

 

Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins speaks during a meeting of the Columbus Kiwanis Club at Lion Hills Center in Columbus on Wednesday.

Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins speaks during a meeting of the Columbus Kiwanis Club at Lion Hills Center in Columbus on Wednesday. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Slim Smith

 

 

Industrial development prospects for the city of Columbus are likely to be few, and while the outlook is more promising in Lowndes County, even those prospects may diminish unless the state adopts a new strategy, Joe Max Higgins said Wednesday. 

 

Higgins, the CEO for the Golden Triangle Development LINK, used Wednesday's appearance before The Columbus Kiwanis Club to provide an update on development in the area, as well as a broader view on the economic development landscape. 

 

"It's a tough deal for the city," Higgins said. "Those of you who have lived here for a while know about the first industrial park on Highway 69 and what happened there. When you look at that site, it had electricity, water, sewer. What is the one thing it doesn't have? The kind of roads you need. You can't get there from anywhere. Companies want easy access to major roadways, and that's something that's difficult for cities. 

 

"Then, you find that you are asking companies to choose between inconvenient sites with old buildings compared to a site in the county that has close access to major highways with a site that is shovel ready," he continued. "It's a hard sell." 

 

Higgins said another real obstacle for cities is that companies are required to pay taxes to three entities - both the city and county government as well as the public school district. 

 

"When you locate in the county, you're down to two taxing entities," Higgins said. "That can't happen when you locate in a city. You're going to have to pay all three." 

 

 

 

Adapting to a changing landscape 

 

Currently the LINK boasts about 10 prospective clients, ranging from small to larger operations that feature $650,000 to $700,000 in capital investment. 

 

"Those are the ones we want," Higgins said. 

 

But while he said there are several promising prospects, the overall picture for economic development is more difficult than it used to be. 

 

"Mississippi is not as competitive as it used to be in a lot of areas," Higgins said. "We have to start changing the way we look at things like incentives. What we are seeing now are companies with high capital expenditure and low jobs numbers with high pay. So, when we get an offer from a company like that, the state says it's not a very good deal because it doesn't produce (a) big number of jobs. 

 

"But what is going to drive development is high capital expenditures with low numbers of jobs that pay well," he added. "And the truth is, we don't need to be creating jobs where the pay is close to our state average anyway." 

 

Higgins said neighboring states are extending the lengths of tax incentives. 

 

"The states around us have extended those to 20 years while we're still at 10 years, so that puts us at a disadvantage," he said. "You can say it is corporate cronyism if you want to, but it's the world we live in. If we're going to be competitive, we have to change how we approach the game." 

 

 

 

Expansion 

 

Higgins also gave updates on a few projects, including a Starkville industrial park near the Highway 389 and 82 intersection, which faces a legal challenge over a zoning conflict that, Higgins said, could delay the project for up to two years. 

 

"We have everything in place, pretty much ready to go, but we'll have to wait on the outcome of the litigation before we can start," he said. "We already lost one building season, so if it drags along, it's possible we could be pushed back as long as two years. Hopefully, that won't be the case. But even in a best-case scenario you are looking at about a year delay." 

 

Higgins said he isn't actively marketing the 90-acre former KiOR site at the Lowndes County Port until it is cleared.  

 

"We had two prospects that we lost last year because we couldn't get the site cleared," he said. "So, at this point, we're not doing anything with that property until we have the site cleared and ready to go. Hopefully, that won' t be long, but until then, we're not going to put ourselves in the position we were in before." 

 

Higgins noted Steel Dynamics, Inc. will have a ceremony to kick off production at its new $100 million expansion for a paint facility on March 29. Meanwhile, he said PACCAR has transformed the old county-owned CalStar facility into a distribution center with an eye toward expansion. 

 

He said he is also eager to hear from International Paper, which purchased two Weyerhauser facilities in the county in December, about its plans for the growth.

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.

 

 

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