Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, had high praise for Lowndes County”s latest economic development projects, telling members of the Kiwanis Club of Columbus Wednesday afternoon that the county is “the envy of the state of Mississippi.”
Earlier in the month, Gov. Haley Barbour pushed forward with a $75.25 million incentive package to bring Calisolar, a solar silicon company, to the old section of the Industrial Park. The project, expected to begin this fall or early next year, promises to bring 951 jobs to the area.
After the meeting, Brown admitted that part of what encouraged him — and others — to back the project was John D. Correnti”s involvement. Correnti, currently the chairman of Calisolar”s board of directors, is the former CEO of SeverCorr steel mill, renamed Severstal after its sale to a Russian company.
“It makes you a whole lot more comfortable when somebody has a track record,” Brown said. “A man with a track record like that gives you a better comfort zone. … The governor knew him, (Mississippi Development Authority) knew him, Joe Higgins knew him, everybody knew him and knew he didn”t chase rabbits he can”t catch.”
Brown said though Calisolar officials had looked hard at other states, notably Ohio, the work Lowndes County officials have put into the Industrial Park made it an attractive choice, namely the ready ability to provide the 170 MW of power the company will require each day.
“People ask why you can”t bring it to the Delta,” Brown joked. “The Delta doesn”t have but a 110 plug-in.”
Recent financial troubles like the August bankruptcy of California-based solar panel company Solyndra shouldn”t trouble Mississippians, Brown said. But he admitted that when he first heard about Calisolar, the thought that it could go “belly up” was his “worst nightmare.”
Brown said he is reassured by company statements that Calisolar will not be making solar panels but will instead be manufacturing silicon metal.
The company plans to use quartz imported from Sylacauga, Ala. and expose it to high temperatures, refining it into 99-percent pure silicon metal which can then be used in consumer electronics products like cellphones and iPads. A second facility on the site will further refine the silicon metal, transforming it into solar silicon bricks, which will then be sliced into thin wafers and used in things like solar panels. Two-thirds of the bricks will be shipped to countries like China, which rely heavily on solar power.
Wednesday afternoon, financial media outlet Bloomberg announced that Calisolar is in the process of firing 23 percent of its workforce — approximately 80 people — at its Sunnyvale, Calif. plant as it shifts its business model from solar cell production to polysilicon production. Polysilicon is used to make solar cells and is what will be manufactured at the Lowndes County facilities.
“This is not dependent on just solar panels,” Brown said, adding that if the company fails, at least Lowndes County will own the building and equipment.
As part of the incentive agreement, Calisolar will receive a $59.5 million loan to construct the building and purchase equipment, with the county retaining ownership and leasing to them. The state is also providing $15.75 million for infrastructure and workforce training.
Brown said Gov. Haley Barbour will be missed in Mississippi when his term ends in January. Barbour has served as the state”s governor since January 2004.
“We were lucky to have him the last eight years,” Brown said. “(There were) a lot of good things to happen.”
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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