Bryant says industrial deals biggest in Mississippi history

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant AP file photo
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant AP file photo
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant
AP file photo

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers will consider more than $275 million in incentives starting Thursday for a Hinds County tire plant and a Gulfport shipyard that could cumulatively invest more than $1.5 billion and create 3,500 jobs.

Gov. Phil Bryant called a special legislative session Wednesday, a day after a lawmaker told The Associated Press that such legislation was imminent.

“It’s the biggest economic development project in Mississippi history,” Bryant told AP on Wednesday afternoon after officials met with lawmakers behind closed doors to discuss incentives. “We’re going to put 3,500 Mississippians to work.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Terry Burton, R-Newton, said the two projects are projected to total more than $1.5 billion in capital investment. Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said Topship will add up to 1,000 workers to those it already employs. The tire plant will employ up to 2,500.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said the state would borrow about $275 million to subsidize the developments, with most money going to the tire plant. The Clarion-Ledger has reported the plant would be built by German firm Continental AG. The remainder of the money would go to the Topship shipyard in Gulfport operated by a unit of Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore.

The total cost of tax breaks and incentives would be significantly more than $275 million, although a full projection wasn’t immediately available.

State Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, said Hinds County would also borrow money for the plant. The document issued by Bryant outlining permissible legislation for the session also includes property tax breaks, an agreement by municipalities not to annex the site, and other incentives.

“I think it has the potential to be a great project for Hinds County,” Horhn said, although he added he wanted to make sure there were adequate opportunities for minorities, small businesses and in-state residents to benefit.

Hewes said Topship already has hundreds of workers after leasing land in 2015. The Mississippi State Port Authority bought 116 acres from Huntington Ingalls Industries after that shipyard closed a plant that made composite components for destroyers.

“Any time you have a substantial number of jobs and people who want to invest millions in your community, it’s wonderful,” Hewes said.

Continental, Edison Chouest, Hinds County officials and the port authority haven’t responded to AP inquiries. The Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s industrial recruiting agency, has declined comment.

Lawmakers must vote on industrial incentives when Mississippi borrows to pay for land, infrastructure or subsidies. State law typically requires a company to invest at least $300 million, or $150 million if the company creates 1,000 or more new jobs, to receive the richest incentives. In 2013, Mississippi granted Yokohama Rubber Co. Ltd. a projected $330 million of incentives, including up to $130 million the state borrowed.

The state Public Service Commission voted 3-0 Tuesday to allow Energy Mississippi to offer a special electrical rate to an unnamed industry. Cecil Brown, Democratic Central District public service commissioner, said the company seeks to locate at a 915-acre site in western Hinds County.

Hinds County has assembled a site and supervisors rezoned the land just north of Interstate 20 to heavy industrial use at a special Jan. 18 meeting. Of that land, 635 acres is held in trust for public schools. Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said he couldn’t comment Tuesday when asked whether the state is working on swapping that land for other land elsewhere as the law allows.

The site near Bolton first drew notice when the state sought a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to fill wetlands in July 2014. The documents showed a plan for construction of a 5.2 million square foot industrial building and operations center, a 23-acre parking lot, detention ponds and nearly 2 miles of railroad spur.

James Peden, a lawyer representing nearby residents, said the Hinds County Economic Development Authority has an option to buy an additional 280 acres north of the school land. Peden said talks have been going on concerning the site for at least 18 months. He said that as part of the January rezoning, county supervisors agreed to require a 150-foot buffer zone on the north and east sides of the property to protect nearby homes from intrusion.

Records show the Hinds County Economic Development Authority has spent more than $30,000 in the past year recruiting what’s called Project Potter. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Smith, R-Columbus, said that’s the code name for the effort.

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