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A conversation with. Gray Swoope, Executive Director, Mississippi Development Authority

"There have been no new taxes since 2004. The governor started in this state with a deficit, and now he has a $400 million surplus."

Apr/May 07
Q. In what sectors is Mississippi witnessing the most development activity?
Of our 15 targeted industries, aerospace and aviation are defining technology in the state. EADS North America announced a huge expansion of their helicopter facility in Columbus, in connection with a military contract to produce, assemble and deliver the U.H.72A helicopter that the Army has named the Lakota. In addition, GE Aviation is exploring the eastern part of the state for a new plant to produce jet engine component parts. Over the next year and a half, GE will create an incubator program with Mississippi State University's College of Engineering in Starkville to demonstrate the necessary capabilities for producing composite components for commercial and military jet engines. Also, in April 2006, Northrup Grumman opened an Unmanned Systems Center production facility in Moss Point, for the production of unmanned aerial vehicles. Currently, Mississippi is one of eight finalists for a $43 million jet engine test facility for Rolls Royce. Automotive is also one of our targets. We have 25,245 auto workers in the state. Nissan just rolled out its millionth vehicle in just under its fourth year in Canton. Nissan Mississippi is the largest exporter of Nissans in terms of dollars, exporting approximately $675 million in cars and trucks. We are interested in the supplier base as well as assembly. Steel and metal fabrication is also a focus. SeverCorr is building an $800 million mini steel mill near Columbus, the first mini mill to produce auto grade sheet steel.

Q. What about incentives for development?
The state reformed its incentive programs under Governor [Haley] Barbour in 2005. Momentum Mississippi was overhauled to base incentives upon salaries and benefits of potential companies. The work force training program was also streamlined. There have been no new taxes since 2004. The governor started in this state with a deficit, and now he has a $400 million surplus. Our agency is focused on recovery from recent natural disasters. Phase I of the Homeowners Grant Program is 90 percent paid out.

Q. Is industry rooted in certain regions of the state?
Mississippi has numerous plastic molding companies. University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg with its Mississippi Polymer Institute is one of the top 10 universities for polymer science in the world, offering undergraduate and graduate programs leading to Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees inpolymer science and engineering. In the Petal High School, the Polymer Plastics Technology program gives students enough skills to enter the work force or go in for a community college degree in plastics engineering technology at Jones County Junior College. In North Mississippi, the proximity to the Memphis airport is one of the factors contributing to the growing distribution and logistics sector. The distribution hub is anchored by a FedEx Ground facility that opened last year in Olive Branch as well as facilities for Williams-Sonoma and BMW. The Mississippi Gulf Coast also has an active deep-water container business. We are blessed with the Mississippi River on the western border, rail crossing the state, a deep-water port on the south, and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway on the east, as well as interstate highways.

Q. What is the export picture?
Mississippi exported more than $4.67 billion of products in 2006, including machinery, chemicals, food products, wood products, and electronics. While traditional trading countries are Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Japan, and Belgium, trading relations have been growing with Brazil, Guatemala, China, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, among others.