Thursday, March 23, 2006

Mississippi Revival

“Our people are tough. They were back to work on the first day after Katrina. That’s why you don’t see them much on TV. They are the type of people who you would want working for you.” Governor Haley Barbour of MS was talking with a dozen site selection consultants at the Governor’s Roundtable last week. I was there to continue my study of the revitalization taking place in the state and to consider making an investment there. I’ve been very impressed with the direction of the state, taking on very tough issues like tort reform and setting themselves up to be one of the major growth states of the 21st Century.

The new Gulf Opportunity Zone (GO Zone) Act of 2005 was recently set up to assist 49 southern MS counties. Incentives include tax credits, special financing, housing incentives, and most importantly to real estate development, a 50% bonus depreciation in the first year.

Some of the suggestions from us at the table were: build upon existing clusters like composites, polymers and others; leverage existing infrastructure like four rail lines crossing at Hattiesburg; expand the ports for containers; and find the often hidden benefits of military bases. One consultant indicated that call centers are moving back to the USA after some very bad experiences overseas. Also unanimously agreed upon by the group was to get Governor Barbour out on the road selling the state to CEOs. His fame, charisma and strong grasp of details make him a perfect spokesman for the state.

Despite the impact of Katrina, Mississippi’s industrial expansion can be seen in the level of its exports. In the past two years exports from the state have skyrocketed from $2.55 billion in 2003 to $4.0 billion last year. Leading export products are vehicles at $738 million; chemicals $397; electrical machinery $385; machinery $358; and wood pulp $283. The MS Nissan auto plant, which I’ve blogged on numerous times due to the impact it has had with over 20 supplier plants in small towns, is exporting cars to Mexico, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman and even China.

There are lessons to be learned from the visionary approach of Mississippi.

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