When Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. announced late last year that it was undergoing a "network capacity study" that would likely lead to the closing of one of its U.S. plants, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) quickly went into action to ensure that the company's Tupelo plant, which employs 1,200, would not be the one to go. The state offered a generous incentives package, which reportedly set off a bidding war among the other locations. Ultimately, the company decided to close a plant in Georgia.
It is this kind of proactive thinking - in pursuit of new investment and retention of existing business - that is at the forefront of Mississippi's strategy to stave off the effects of the recession. Of course, the Mississippi economy has felt the effects of the worldwide economic crisis. State revenues are down, unemployment is up, and job fairs are seeing record attendance. Toyota, which is nearing completion of its new Prius production plant in Blue Springs, has delayed the facility's opening "indefinitely." But despite the hard times, or perhaps because of them, the state has stepped up its efforts. MDA reported this spring that it was working on 20 "high priority" projects with a maximum total estimated investment of $31 billion.
Mississippi also recently scored a win with the announcement by United Chair, a Haworth division, that it would expand its plant in Bruce, adding 125 new jobs. This move was part of the company's consolidation of North American operations that will reduce its work force by 350, and it included closure of a Michigan plant. Mississippi's incentives included approximately $800,000 in infrastructure improvements and financial assistance for moving equipment from Michigan.
Other success stories include Nissan, which announced in March that it has begun an $118 million expansion of its Canton plant to produce a new line of commercial vehicles. "The expansion at our Canton plant represents a major step on the way to Nissan's entering the commercial vehicle market in North America," says Dan Bednarzyk, a company vice president. The vehicles are on schedule for a 2010 production start, in time for the 2011 model year.
In Iuka, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) is retooling its plant to switch production from rocket components to composite stringers and frames for commercial aircraft. ATK expects its Iuka work force to increase from about 175 now to about 800 as it ramps up production during the next four years. Another recent expansion in the state was N.E.W. Customer Service Companies Inc., which opened a new call center in Meridian to handle inbound calls for DirecTV, adding 273 jobs. "This is the second call center we have opened in Mississippi, and we continue to be impressed with the strong work ethic and commitment to customer service that we find in the candidates of this great state," says Ray Zukowski, the company's senior vice president for customer experience. The company also expanded its Tupelo facility in early 2008, bringing N.E.W,'s Mississippi work force total to more than 720.
A massive restoration and expansion project at the Port of Gulfport continues to move forward. While made necessary by the near-total destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, the rebuilding plans call for an expansion of the port's capacity to as much as five times its pre-Katrina size. The project is anticipated to create 6,500 direct jobs, 8,400 induced jobs, and 1,700 indirect jobs.
Meanwhile, officials at the port, and throughout the state, continue to sort through information regarding allocation of federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In early April, Governor Haley Barbour convened a summit of state agency heads, legislators, and local government officials to discuss the information that had already been made available. The governor said in a statement that he hoped to have more specific information soon.