By John Howell
The Panola Partnership is awaiting decision on a grant application to the Tennessee Valley Authority for $300,000 to further develop the Wardlaw property recently purchased adjacent to the Airport Industrial Park.
“We were the only community in north Mississippi … selected for a site visit, so our application was very good,” Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons said.
Following the July 7 site visit by TVA officials, “They were extremely impressed with what we’ve done with the airport property,” Simmons said during a recent meeting of the Batesville Exchange Club.
“Here’s the reason we need that property so bad,” Simmons said. “We only have one tract of land left in our old Batesville industrial park and it’s about a 42-acre tract,” Simmons said. “But in the last two years, I’ve had requests for information from the state for projects that needed no less than 250 acres.
“We could not submit because we didn’t have 250 acres of usable industrial property anywhere,” Simmons continued.
The purchase in early June of the Wardlaw property added about 294 acres between the existing Airport Industrial Park on Highway 35 North and I-55.
“You couple that with the 200 usable acres in the Airport Industrial Park … (and) we’ve got sufficient land to make that happen if a large project wants to look at us,” the Partnership CEO said.
Simmons said that work to remove a tree line separating the two properties was begun immediately. If the TVA grant funding become available, it will be used to remove old buildings, trees and undergrowth to open visibility on I-55 all the way to the airport.
Simmons said that five new industry locations have come to in Panola County in the last five years.
“There’s not another community in the state of Mississippi our size that can say that. We’ve had seven expansions of our existing industries,” he said.
“What that equates to is about 1,200 new jobs, over $200 million in new investment and now over $55 million in additional new payroll,” The Partnership CEO continued, citing sales tax revenue returned to municipalities from the State Tax Commission that place Batesville 17th in amount of retail sales among Mississippi cities.
“The county board, the city board — everybody’s pretty well on the same page,” Simmons said. “For the most part, everything that we do is unified, that makes a huge difference, especially when you are introducing prospect industries to your leadership and you can convince them that you’re on the same page.
Other economic developments named by Simmons include:
• The Partnership has just unveiled its newly revamped web site.
“Nine out of 10 initial searches, according to site location consultants, are done initially on your web site,” Simmons said. “If that information … is not on that site, you are automatically eliminated. … If you don’t have a first-class site, you’re not going to do business in what we do as an economic development organization;”
• The preliminary report from Retail Coach is expected in August. The Tupelo-based retail consultant was hired by the City of Batesville to conduct a three-year study to identify retail opportunity for expansion of existing business and recruitment of new businesses;
• TVA has provided a conceptual layout of the Airport Industrial Park and will also provide in 3-D dimension a layout for the the Wardlaw property, “so we can see how we can maximize our acreage.” The service comes at no cost to the Partnership, Simmons said;
• The Panola Partnership’s target market “is probably going to remain very similar to what it has been in the past, automotive suppliers for sure,” Simmons said, citing the growth of the Toyoda Gosei manufacturing facility in the Harmon Industrial Complex;
• Simmons praised staff members, officer manager and Main Street Manager Colleen Clark and administrative assistant Meredith Fleming.
Fleming is pursuing certification in economic development, having completed coursework.
“All she lacks is sitting for the exams; someday she’ll have the same certifications I have,” Simmons said.
• The growing and effective operation of Tri-Lakes Medical Center has increasingly become an asset for industrial recruitment.
“That’s one of the top five questions that industry asks me: ‘Tell me about your medical facilities and your services,” Simmons said.