WEST POINT — It will take more than $380,000 to get West Point back on the industrial map.
Plagued by unemployment since Bryan Foods closed its doors in 2007, West Point is positioning itself to attract coveted industries and jobs with federal funds. More specifically, a $380,000 industrial development grant from the office of Housing and Urban Development was awarded Friday to the West Point/Clay County Community Growth Alliance.
But the grant, appropriated through the efforts of First District U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, is only the first step toward attracting industry.
“It”s just a starting point. It”s definitely not going to put the whole project on,” said Growth Alliance President Jeff Rowell.
The project Rowell is referring to is a planned industrial complex, similar to Lowndes County”s Global Industrial Aerospace Park, in north West Point, just east of Highway 45 Alternate, near the Tennessee Valley Authority substation.
“We”re looking at parcels on the north part of town, adjacent to the TVA substation. It”s an undeveloped area that”s zoned industrial,” explains Rowell. “The land is positioned really well for potential industry. You”ve got rail access, direct access to Highway 45 and good infrastructure. The TVA substation is a really big strength for the site.”
The plan is to attract second- and third-tier industries which may supply or service the larger manufacturers in Lowndes, but no land has been purchased as the industrial site remains in its planning stages.
Until a prospective buyer signs on, Rowell says the land won”t be purchased or developed. Nor would the $380,000 be sufficient to create the necessary infrastructure to prepare the land.
However, the money, which may be withdrawn as needed from HUD, is sufficient to fund a number of necessary environmental studies, such as cultural resources, wetlands delineation, threatened and endangered species survey and geotechnical (soil) tests to determine if the site is feasible.
The Growth Alliance will also wait until a company is committed to customize the infrastructure to its needs.
“We could do a lot of work, but what if it doesn”t meet the requirements of an investor? There are a lot of things we”re not going to be able to do until we have a prospect committed to building on the site,” he said.
Once a company signs on, the plan is to return to Washington to update Mississippi senators and representatives and make the case for additional funds.
“Hopefully we”ll be able to get some more grant or long-term assistance when we have a bird in hand,” said Rowell.
A delegation from West Point was in Washington March 2-4 to request funding to be received next year. Rowell, Mayor Scott Ross, Ward 1 Selectman Rod Bobo and Clay County District 3 Supervisor R.B. Davis visited Childers and Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker prior to the deadline for funding requests for the 2011 fiscal budget.
Such delegations are a yearly occurrence for municipalities, which send representatives to Washington to alert federal officials to the needs of individual areas in their respective states. The HUD grant awarded to the Growth Alliance, for instance, is the result of last year”s appeal for funding.
Ross said this year”s delegation focused on securing funds for several road projects, including converting a portion of Eshman Avenue to three lanes to accommodate traffic created by Navistar, and redirecting city wastewater discharge to the wastewater treatment plant acquired by the city when CRG Acquisitions sold the former Bryan Foods facility.
Redirecting the wastewater from the current lagoon system to the treatment facility will bring the city into compliance with the Department of Environmental Quality”s 2012 discharge requirements, in addition to saving the city an estimated $20 million over the next five years.
Ross says Cochran has sponsored the funding for the work on Eshman Avenue for the past two years, diverting $1.95 million for the work. During the delegation”s recent trip, Cochran was asked for a third year of funding which would provide enough to complete the project.
“We”re trying to get the project fully funded before we start,” said Ross.
Davis made a request on behalf of the county for $1.8 million to complete work on Tibbee Road, which provides an alternative connecting route from Highway 45 to Highway 82.
“It”s just a mile that needs to be built up and surfaced. It is ready and will be a top priority, but no money is in state funds to take care of it,” said Davis.
He says the alternative route will be valuable in the case of a disaster on 82 or 45 and feels confident the money will be appropriated next year.
Davis and Ross both felt the trip to Washington was successful and will result in some much-needed funding next year.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.