Higgins: State needs to get creative on economic development to stay competitive

November 10, 2017 11:03:32 AM

Isabelle Altman - ialtman@cdispatch.com

 

At a luncheon of the Columbus Lowndes Chamber of Commerce, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said Mississippi would have to get creative to compete with surrounding states like Alabama, Georgia and Arkansas. 

 

"Some of the neighboring states have got a little more vision than we have at the time, and they have implemented some programs that are making them more competitive," he said. 

 

Specifically those states, especially Arkansas, were "handing out routine ass-kickings to folks like us," he said. 

 

He mentioned losing a $700 million project to Georgia earlier this year. 

 

"Two hundred fifty-one jobs paying $61,000 per year," he said. "Those of you that are out there scoring, that would have been outright second place in the Golden Triangle behind the steel mill and ahead of PACCAR." 

 

While some of the reason for that is taxation laws, he said, those states are also better at displaying their workforce to companies that could potentially employ hundreds of workers. 

 

However, Higgins said, perception of the workforce is more of a problem than the workforce itself. Mississippi and particularly the Golden Triangle are quickly developing a well-trained workforce that will appeal to companies looking to put plants in the area. 

 

He indicated he has high hopes for the Communiversity, a $38 million workforce training center on East Mississippi Community College's campus. 

 

"We have to do something to make us different (than surrounding states)," he said. "... That Communiversity is going to serve that role. We're going to train new people to work, we're going to retrain older folks to work. We're going to have kids when they're in fifth and sixth grade going out there and seeing what the opportunities are and we're going to make that a show place." 

 

He said the Communiversity, combined with the Golden Triangle Early College High School that opened on EMCC's campus two years ago and which allows high school students to graduate with Associates' degrees, will show companies and investors the Golden Triangle is serious about providing a well-trained work force. 

 

Higgins also said three different alternative energy companies were looking at locating in the Golden Triangle. He also said the Southern Cross Transmission project, a 400-mile wind energy line across the state that will end with a $300 million converter station in the Caledonia area, only needs four more land owners to approve using their property. 

 

He also said Oktibbeha County and Clay County were doing well -- the LINK just invested in a 400-acre property to house a new industrial park in Oktibbeha County. He also hopes to announce a new project shortly in West Point, in addition to the jobs created by Yokohama when it opened a plant there in 2015. 

 

"If you want to talk about some fun and some success, that's a county ... that just a few years ago was 22 percent unemployment," he said. "They're at seven now."