Each year, sometimes more often than that, Joe Max Higgins addresses the Columbus Rotary Club to provide updates on economic development in the Golden Triangle.
While it has been a while since Higgins, the CEO of the Golden Triangle Development LINK, has been able to make any announcement of a major new project, Higgins told Rotarians on Tuesday that type of announcement may come in the not-too-distant future, including a 1,200-acre TVA megasite that Higgins hopes to be certified early next year.
If it is certified, the 1,200-acre site near the Golden Triangle Regional Airport will be the third megasite in the area.
The Tennessee Valley Authority started the megasites program in 2004. Each site must be at least 1,000 acres, have access to highways, rail and utilities and have a large local labor force. It must also have no environmental problems in its history.
“When TVA first started the megasite program, they developed seven of them,” Higgins told Rotarians. “Of the seven, six wound up with major projects and of those six, we got two of them here in the Golden Triangle — Severstal and PACAAR.
“After PACCAR, I think TVA thought there were no more places where a megasite would work, but when we developed the Prairie Belt (West Point) site, we used the same plan TVA used for the megasites and wound up with Yokohama. I think TVA saw that and said, ‘Well, maybe there are more site out there.’ And they brought the program back.
“Today, they are developing two sites and we have one of them. We hope to have it certified by the spring,” Higgins said. “When that happens, that means we will have three of the nine megasites TVA developed. That means we have a third of them. That’s pretty good.”
The megasite was one of many “irons in the fire” Higgins noted during his visit to the Rotary Club luncheon at Lion Hills Center.
“One of the greatest assets we have now is at the Lowndes County port,” Higgins said. “Up until recently, we only have two 25-acre sites to market, which limited what we could attract.”
Recent developments have changed that, however. The county has reclaimed ownership of the former KiOR site, has purchased another adjoining parcel, as well as another 17 acres.
“Now, we’re looking at a 95-to-100 acre site there,” Higgins said. “There aren’t many 100-acre sites left on the Tombigbee Waterway, so this is a great site for us to market.
“We know what we have there. We’ve already said no to some people. What we are looking for is a company that will bring in a high capital investment with a high number of jobs at a high rate of pay.”
Three companies are considering the site, Higgins said.
“One wants the entire 100 acres and would invest $100 million and create 300 jobs,” Higgins said. “Another one wants 75 acres and would invest $300 million and create 325 jobs and the last one also wants 75 acres and would invest $175 million and create 150 to 160 jobs.
“These are the real deals, folks.”
Higgins said other potential deals are also in the works elsewhere.
“We are definitely in the running for an auto/aerospace supply project that would be a $100 investment,” Higgins said. “There were three sites they were considering and it’s gone from three to two now and we’re one of the two.”
Higgins said the company would create about 500 jobs with an average pay of $45,000.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]