Headlines – 11/10/2006

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 10, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – November 10, 2006

  From the 11/10/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Cobb unseats McClure in chancery court race
By Rupert Howell
and David Howell

Panola County attorney Vicki Cobb defeated incumbent Chancery Judge Melvin McClure Tuesday night in the mid-term election.

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Cobb earned approximately 58 percent of the vote, according to an unofficial vote count Wednesday morning. Cobb carried four of the five counties in the district, with the exception being Tate County, McClure’s home county.

Besides Tate and Panola, the district also encompasses Grenada, Montgomery and Yalobusha Counties.

"The vote showed people were ready for a change, a positive change," Cobb said Wednesday adding that she was very pleased with the voter turnout.

Cobb ran on a platform of a family person for family court. Chancery Court decisions deal primarily with cases concerning families, such as divorce, child custody and support cases, estate matters and land disputes.

Cobb had worked for former Chancery Court Judge Dennis Baker as chancery court administrator for six years. She had previously been elected to and served a portion of a term as Panola County’s prosecuting attorney.

She ran a close race four years ago during her first bid for chancery court judge when she advanced to a runoff with three candidates, McClure, Jimmy Vance, and Mitch Lundy. McClure and Lundy were winners in that election as the top two were elected to fill the two seats.

Incumbent Lundy of Grenada was re-elected as he ran unopposed for his seat in Chancery Court.

Since the 2002 election, the Mississippi legislature changed the law so that chancery and circuit judges would no longer run in "herds," meaning that individual judges could be challenged, instead of the two receiving the most votes taking office in the five-county chancery court district.

Incumbent Roger Wicker won his bid to remain U.S. Representative as did incumbent U.S. Senator Trent Lott.

Auto plant employees would be well-paid
By Billy Davis

If Panola County lands a Japanese automaker for its Como site, the 2,000-plus employees who work there will earn more income in a year than the average two-income family in Batesville.

At the Japanese assembly plants in the United States, starting pay for an assembly line worker is about $18 an hour, Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons said this week.

A starting annual salary of $37,440, in fact, would easily beat the state’s average annual salary for manufacturing jobs, which in 2000 was $28,496.

Mississippi workers have long endured the short end of the nation’s payroll stick, and Panola County was about $4,200 below the state’s average manufacturing salary in 2000. (Retails jobs are even farther behind).

"If an automobile manufacturer came to Panola County, obviously there would be a lot more income to spend on retail, which is already booming in Batesville," said John Turner, director of economic development for Entergy Mississippi.

With support from Panola Partnership, Entergy Mississippi is heading a marketing campaign to bring a major industry, most likely an automotive plant, to 1,700 acres of ready-to-develop land located east of Como.

The Como site was a finalist for a Toyota plant in 2003, and Mississippi is among several states being considered for the Japanese automaker’s eighth assembly plant in North America.

A labor study of Panola County shows the median household income is $30,487, which breaks down to about $8 an hour for the two wage earners. The median household income in the United States is more than $50,000.

The labor study was performed by The Wadley-Donovan Group as part of Entergy’s effort to certify the Como site in preparation for interested industries (see related story, page A1).

Panola Partnership and Entergy split the cost of the $40,000 study, expecting the 120-plus pages of statistics and data to bolster Panola County’s standing as a contender.

"The labor study was done to determine whether we could support a major industry to Panola County, and the short answer is, ?Yes,’" said Simmons.

The labor study looked at Panola County’s surrounding population within a 30-mile and 60-mile radius from the Como site, finding an available labor force of 1.5 million workers.

Many of those workers are highly skilled laborers from the Memphis metro area, and they would likely compete with Panola Countians for the jobs at an automotive plant, Simmons also acknowledged.

Even if many of the automotive jobs are nabbed by workers outside Panola County, however, an "influx" of families will likely relocate to Panola County over time, Simmons said.

"The Nissan plant in Canton drew a labor force from 90 miles away, and now a good portion of those have relocated to Madison County," Simmons told The Panolian. "If you go down there, outside Canton you’ll see new subdivisions that formerly were cotton fields."

When an automaker such as Toyota or Nissan builds a plant, other industries who supply vehicle parts form a hub around the site, creating additional job opportunities for the region.

According to Turner, many of those suppliers would operate within a 30-minute drive of the Como site if they want their product to be purchased by an automaker.

At the Nissan plant in Canton, which now employs about 5,500, analysts estimate that Nissan’s location there has created about 33,000 jobs that are indirectly related to the automaker’s presence in Madison County.

Wreck claims one life
By Billy Davis

Funeral services are today at 2 p.m. for a Batesville woman who was killed Tuesday in an automobile accident east of Batesville.

Tina Marie Burnworth, 43, died when the vehicle she was driving collided with another automobile at the intersection of Blackjack Road and Highway 6 East.

Burnworth was a member of First Faith Baptist Church and a homemaker.

Burial will be in Forrest Memorial Park Cemetery.

Panola County coroner Gracie Grant-Gulledge said Burnworth died instantly from head trauma.

Troopers with the Miss. Highway Patrol responded to the scene of the wreck, but the Troop E Headquarters in Batesville did not return a phone call seeking details of the wreck.

Burnworth is survived by a husband, Phillip Burnworth Sr., a son, Phillip Burnworth II, three sisters and three brothers.

Plus regular PANOLA PEOPLE features:
Certified mega-site shopping for customer
By Billy Davis

A mega-site located east of Como is still seeking a mega-sized industry, and this time an improved marketing strategy may help land one.

In cooperation with Panola Partnership, Entergy Mississippi has established the Como site as an Entergy Certified Site, meaning the electric cooperative is armed with vital information that was not available to automotive plants when the Como site was a finalist for a Toyota assembly plant in 2003.

The 1,700-acre site is located approximately a half-mile south of Como’s Interstate 55 exit. A 900-acre site, located west of I-55, is also part of the project.
"Basically, certification means we have the answers to their questions before they’re asked," said John Turner, director of economic development for Entergy Mississippi.

In a phone interview this week, Turner said a prospective industry would likely inquire about land ownership, infrastructure for transportation and public utilities, any detailed development plans, information about annexation and current zoning laws, and any site assessments, such as an environmental study of the site.

"We know that a mega-sized industry would want redundant electrical power, so knowing that we’ve prepared schematic drawings and have the cost estimates," Turner said, citing an example of Entergy’s "pro-active" approach to landing an industry.

Although some tweaking still remains, Turner said the certification was far enough along by late summer for Entergy to start a "soft marketing" campaign to industrial prospects.

The marketing will begin in earnest in January, 2007, he said, with a goal to land an industry within the year.

An automotive plant is the ideal use of the site, though another similar-sized employer would be an obvious asset to the county, said Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons.

"The steel mill in Columbus brought 450 jobs, but those jobs pay $70,000 a year," Simmons said.
"There is no minimum number of jobs because, not only is this about jobs, but you’ve got to look at the amount of investment and the amount they pay," Turner said.

With fingers crossed, however, local leaders are hoping to land an automotive plant, especially since the Como site has already drawn the interest of Japanese automakers.

In Simmons’ office in downtown Batesville, a map of the Como site shows a railroad spur and loading area for new vehicles, all located on the west site. Sketched in black marker is a proposed new I-55 intersection, located in the southwestern boundary of the east site. The roadway would loop the entire 1,700 acres, ending at the north boundary with an overpass that connects to the west property and railroad spur.

Simmons said the east site is under "paid option," meaning its four landowners have received a down payment toward a future purchase. A verbal agreement has been reached between the Partnership and about six landowners of the west property, he said.

Toyota Motors will dedicate its seventh North American assembly plant today, this one in San Antonio, Texas, where it is building a new version of the Tundra pickup truck, The New York Times reported this week.

Although the Japanese automaker chose Texas to build its newest plant, Panola County was considered a finalist for site number seven.

"I believe we were number two on the list," said Simmons, whose opinion was seconded by Turner.

According to The New York Times story, Toyota is now deciding whether to expand its San Antonio site or build an eighth assembly plant in either Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee or Mississippi.

An automotive plant would employ between 2,500 and 3,000 workers with typical starting salaries of $18 an hour, Simmons said. More specialized jobs start around $22 to $24 an hour, he said.

According to Turner, jobs at an assembly plant would be bolstered by jobs at the automaker’s suppliers, some of them required to build within a 30-minute drive of the assembly plant.

"If we land an automaker for the Como site, it would literally affect the whole region," Turner said. "There are already areas being looked at as potential sites for the supplier parts."

Church Page now available at panolian.com
By John Howell Sr.

The church page published in each Friday’s edition of The Panolian can now be accessed online, publisher John Howell said.

The church page is sponsored by 15 local businesses and features names, addresses, ministers’ names and contact information for over 140 Panola-area churches. The church page online version features links to the e-mail contact with sponsors, a link to the sponsor’s Web site, and a link which provides a map to the sponsor’s business, Howell said.

The online version also includes links to churches names, addresses and pastor information as well as a link to a map showing the church’s location. The online church page also includes a link to church’s Web site and e-mail address if available, Howell said.

Church representatives may check their church’s information and make additions and corrections directly online.

Church page sponsors include Domino’s Pizza, Expert Auto Glass, Sullivan’s Drug Store, Piggly Wiggly, Pride Auto Sales and Service, First Security Bank, Huron Smith Oil Company, Tri-State Termite and Pest Control Co., Treasurer Loans, Sayle Oil Company, Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association, Tucker Manufacturing Company, Caldwell Insurance, and Thurmon and Annette Montgomery Servicemaster.

"This adds value for our online readers, our churches and our sponsors," Howell said.

To access The Panolian church page online, go to www.panolian.com and click the church page link.

Vets Day observance to be held on Monday
By Rupert Howell

Mississippi State Auditor Phil Bryant will be the featured speaker next Monday when the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hosts a Veterans Day observance Monday, November 13 at 10 a.m. at Batesville Memorial Park on the Downtown Square.

VFW Commander James Hardy is encouraging everyone to attend and honor all veterans, "especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice."

The official day of observance is Saturday, November 11. Hardy said the decision was made to have the event on Monday so that South Panola High School Band and the AFJROTC unit could participate.

Bryant was elected to a full term as state auditor in November, 1999, and re-elected in 2003.

Prior to becoming state auditor, he served five years as a member of the House of Representatives, where he was the vice chairman of the Insurance Committee and authored the Capital Gains Tax Cut Act of 1992.

Bryant is a lifelong Mississippian married to the former Deborah Hays of Jackson and they have two children. The Bryants are active members of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.


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