Area Development
Editor's Note: This article was written for the Mississippi Development Authority which approved and paid for this post.

In February 2022, the state of Mississippi announced plans to invest nearly $25 million in site development projects across the state. Site development grant funds are provided through the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA), Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), and the RESTORE Act for assisting local economic development entities in their efforts to spur economic growth by attracting new industry with competitive, “shovel-ready” sites.{{RELATEDLINKS}}

Shovel-ready sites are, essentially, ready for construction. The initial phases of evaluation, environmental study and remediation, zoning and site planning, and engineering have already been completed. Tasks include environmental and archeological site assessments, wetland studies and mitigation, geotechnical studies, and infrastructure preparation, such as utility connections and roadway access. For example, the Harrison County Development Commission will receive a $28,000 grant to install broadband at the North Harrison County Industrial Complex, and the Walthall County Board of Supervisors will receive $50,000 to design and build a new entrance to U.S. Hwy. 98 for its shovel-ready site.

Properties that can support immediate construction are in high demand — for companies, because they can start up quickly; for economic development departments, because shovel-ready deals are a great way to create jobs quickly that have an immediate impact on the local and regional economies.

With construction projects now going forward that had been shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, companies are eager to find that choice piece of ground to launch their new location or expansion. Being shovel-ready has quickly become a very competitive factor for site selection. With construction projects now going forward that had been shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economy rebounding, companies are eager to find that choice piece of ground to launch their new location or expansion. The greater the number and variety of shovel-ready sites a state has, the better its chances of landing new investments.

“Shovel-ready sites are a top priority for companies seeking a new location,” said Governor Tate Reeves. “By investing in these sites today, we are laying a foundation upon which companies can quickly locate, expand, and create jobs for future generations of Mississippians.”

Three Types of Shovel-Ready Sites
There are several categories of shovel-ready sites available through the state’s Site Development Grant Program. The amount of “readiness” is determined by the magnitude of investment and job creation a company brings to the project.

1. “Ready Sites” require a minimum of 20 highly developable acres. The site must be work-ready within six months and be capable of having utilities on site within 12 months. Ready sites are eligible to receive up to $50,000 in funding.

Examples include: 2. “Premier Sites” require a minimum of 100 acres and must have attributes that distinguish them from other properties, such as being in high-demand locations, having large-scale mega-development acreage, and having significant utility infrastructure already in place. A labor force must also be available that is capable of serving the intended market. Premier sites are eligible to receive up to $250,000 in funding.

A good example is Madison County’s mega-site development near Jackson. This shovel-ready site has full water, sewer, and gas and a 60-megawatt (expandable to 300 megawatt) substation on site. A one-million-gallon water tank is also under construction. Site advantages include new and upgraded utility infrastructure, a 100,000-square-foot speculative building under construction (expandable to 300,000 square feet), and direct interstate access. These features have attracted Amazon, which built a fulfillment center on approximately 80 acres of the mega-site, where there are still 705 acres available for development.

3. The “Select Sites” program was created in 2021 to increase the number of highly competitive industrial sites in the state. Twenty of the state’s top publicly owned industrial sites were evaluated by Greenville, S.C.-based Strategic Development Group, which was contracted by the state’s electric utilities. Seven of these sites have qualified for Select Sites funding. Grants will be used for various preparation needs, including access roads and intersection modifications, wetland mitigation, and levee construction and drainage improvements.

The Mississippi legislature recently enacted a new tax incentives program to better meet the needs of new and expanding businesses and provide a simpler incentives application process. For example, the Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex in Warren County, about 17 miles east of Vicksburg, qualifies for $1.4 million for stream mitigation, drainage improvements, water and sewer system improvements, and entrance improvements. One of the most advanced properties within the Interplex is Site B, a site with 174 acres ready for construction that is the largest shovel-ready site on Interstate 20 in the Jackson area.

“Site B is serviced via a new industrial road and has access to all utilities, including water, sewer, gas, and broadband,” said Pablo Diaz, president and CEO at The Vicksburg Warren County Partnership. “All due diligence has been completed, including environmental work, archeological and geotechnical surveys, soil borings, and wetland delineation. With direct access to I-20, employers in the park, including Unified Brands, Tyson Foods, and Mississippi Tantec, draw from the state's largest regional workforce located within the Jackson metropolitan area."

To further support economic development across Mississippi, the state legislature recently enacted a new tax incentives program to better meet the needs of new and expanding businesses and provide a simpler incentives application process. Mississippi’s new tax incentive, the Mississippi Flexible Tax Incentive (MFLEX), is a streamlined universal tax credit that provides more options for offsetting a company’s Mississippi state tax liabilities. Businesses may choose whether to utilize the state's traditional tax incentives offerings or take the MFLEX credit.

The value of the MFLEX credit is determined by a project’s investment in manufacturing and/or non-manufacturing equipment and its construction costs, the number of net new full-time jobs expected to be created, and the project’s average annual wages. Eligible companies can use this credit against a variety of tax liabilities, including state income, franchise, and sales and use taxes, and the withholding tax employers are required to withhold from employee wages. All new companies locating in Mississippi and existing businesses looking to create new jobs and investment in the state are eligible. Planned capital investment must exceed $2.5 million and a company must create more than 10 jobs to qualify.

Making Business Easy
One of the top priorities for any company is speed — speed of shipping, speed of production, and speed of location/construction. Shovel-ready sites give companies a jump start in getting their operations up and running by not having to conduct due diligence or take on costly and time-intensive surveys. By combining a robust shovel-ready site program with generous taxation options that are actively supported by local, regional, and state economic development agencies, Mississippi has boosted its attractiveness for landing big deals, creating jobs, and expanding its economic base.

“MDA commends these communities for taking the initiative to ensure their sites are competitive and ready to meet the unique needs of companies across a wide range of sectors,” said MDA Deputy Director Laura Hipp. “Mississippi is an ideal place to do business, and the further development of these industrial sites is yet another attribute we can add to our strong portfolio of competitive business advantages.”