Headlines – 11/21/2006

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Panolian: HEADLINES – November 21, 2006

  From the 11/21/06 issue of The Panolian   –   

Weather Radio
     Allison Bright, a deputy chancery court clerk, receives instructions about using a weather radio from Son Hudson, director of Panola County Emergency Management Agency. Grant money is allowing Panola County EMA to place the radios in the county courthouses in Batesville and Sardis. Several radios are already in use in local schools, Hudson said.
Labor study: good potential in Panola
By Billy Davis

A labor survey of Panola County found a workforce here lacking in training and numbers but nonetheless capable of supplying workers for an automotive assembly plant.

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The study’s author, The Wadley Donovan Group, found that an auto plant and its suppliers could staff its facilities with up to 6,340 qualified workers in the first year of production, a number drawn from a 60-mile pool of 105,673 likely applicants.

An automotive plant would employ between 2,500 and 3,000 workers with typical starting salaries of $18 an hour, Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons told The Panolian in a November 10 story.
An executive summary of the labor study funneled the 120-page study into 19 pages of "key assets" and "key challenges." Many of the "assets" are boosted by including workers within a 60-mile, 22-county radius of Como, the location of a 1,700-acre mega-site. Several of the "challenges," meanwhile, stem from an underskilled and undermanned Panola County labor force.

One asset notes that 65,851 workers are employed in manufacturing jobs within 60 miles of Como. That number exceeds the national average and would offer a mega-industry a "skilled resource" of experienced workers.

One challenge is that Panola County boasts a low number of high school graduates, which is likely why the basic skill levels of job applicants – math, reading comprehension, written communication – is described by surveyed employers as "borderline satisfactory." Basic computer skills are also lacking, the summary also stated.

"The main concern in the study is the need to enhance our workforce," Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons told The Panolian Monday.

Improving workforce training has already started – at least to some degree, the Partnership CEO also said.

Simmons said he recently organized a monthly roundtable meeting of management from existing Panola County industries. From those first meetings, he said, came a unified call for a better-trained workforce.

The industry leaders met this month with South Panola vo-tech director Billy Smith, and a representative of Northwest Community College is set to meet with the managers in January.

The labor summary noted the presence of Northwest and labeled it the "primary provider" of technical training for a future mega-industry at the Como site. The study also suggested, however, that employers rarely use regional community colleges for recruitment or worker training.

A summary of the study was placed into the hands of some local leaders November 2 when Wadley Donovan delivered its final presentation to the Partnership’s executive committee.

Panola Partnership and Entergy Mississippi split the cost of the $40,000 study, hoping that the investment could help lure a major industry to the Como mega-site.

Entergy plans to launch a heavy marketing campaign for the Como site beginning in January, 2007, with a goal to recruit a mega-industry by the end of the year.

The Como site nearly snagged a Toyota assembly plant in 2003.

With Entergy set to begin its marketing campaign in January, Simmons said the goal for Panola County leaders should be to assess the county’s strengths and weaknesses then begin addressing them by the first of the year.

Simmons said two starting points are planning for coming growth in the county and beginning the installation of infrastructure in the new county-wide public utility district.

After local legislators received authority from the state to do so, county leaders approved the public utility district last year with plans to supply sewer and water to Como’s industrial site with lines originating in Batesville.

Regarding the planning, Simmons said the board of supervisors and the City of Batesville will hopefully work together in coming months to address land-use goals.

"We need to identify those areas of growth right now and at least start to put some regulations in place," Simmons said. "If there’s no vision for the future, you’ll look back in 10 years and say, ?I wish we had planned better.’"

And Panola County is apparently growing at a fast clip. The labor study showed that Panola experienced above-average growth from 1990 to 2000, increasing in population by 14.3 percent compared to 10.5 percent for the state and 13.2 percent nationally.

Is Panola really poised to land a major auto industry?

Simmons told a meeting of Batesville Rotarians last week that the Como site trumps its mega-site competitors in the state, the Well Spring site near Tupelo and the Kiwani site near Meridian. (See related story, page A1).

"The Como site is probably one of the better sites in the state," Leonard Morris, a state legislator from Batesville, told The Panolian last week.

Morris said the marketing of the Como site is "on the radar screen" after The Panolian announced the Como site’s certification in its November 10 publication.

"People are starting to talk about it," Morris said. "Now we’ve got to get to work because, if we intend for it to be a mega-site, we need more to offer than just raw land."

Thanksgiving will delay garbage service for some
By Rupert Howell

Local schools are out for Thanksgiving week, and local government offices are closed on Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Offices at the Panola County courthouses in Batesville and Sardis will be closed Thursday and Friday.

Garbage pick-up for Panola County and City of Batesville residents normally serviced on Thursday will be serviced on Friday.

Offices of the municipalities of Batesville, Como and Sardis will also be closed Thursday and Friday and re-open Monday.

North Delta, North Panola and South Panola Schools are closed for the week for students. District offices at South Panola are open until noon today (Tuesday) and the North Panola office is open through Tuesday.

Local federal offices are closed Thursday only.

Business owners sought for coming 2007 guide
Business owners in Panola County who are African American are urged to submit their listing for the 2007 Business Guide, coordinator Rufus Manley said.

"If you want your business to be listed in this year’s business guide, you must send me your name as the owner, the name and address of your business and the telephone numbers you want listed in the guide," Manley said.

"This year again we are asking for a donation for each business of $10 to help with the printing as we are a non-profit organization," he added.

Deadline for the information and donation is Friday, December 29. It may be sent to Rufus Manley, P. O. Box 469, Batesville, MS 38606. For more information, call 662-563-0328.

"We will have a dinner for all of the listed business owners with one guest each on January 13, 2007, at 6 p.m. at the Patton Lane Community Center, 133 Patton Lane in Batesville," Manley said.

Partnership’s CEO says Panola a player in mega-industry hunt
By John Howell Sr.

Como’s prospective mega-site offers advantages to an automotive manufacturer or other large-use industry that would make it less costly to develop than two possible competitors, Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons said Tuesday.

The Como site, which includes 950 acres west of Interstate 55 and 1,700 acres east of I-55, is far more level with an elevation difference of only 35 feet. The Well Spring site in northeast Mississippi and the Kiwani state-line site near Meridian have elevation differences of 135 feet and 125 feet, respectively, Simmons told members of the Batesville Rotary Club and their guests.

"Rail issues are a greater problem," Simmons said. Canadian National’s rail line runs near the west Como site. Though bringing rails across the interstate to serve the east parcel would be nearly impossible, the problem would be solved by building a two-lane, dedicated overpass across the interstate to a rail service area on the west side. That solution has been deemed acceptable by site consultants who work with the automotive industry to locate suitable manufacturing sites, Simmons said.

"What about the railroad, is it dying?" asked private economic developer Woody Loden. Loden referred to the Canadian-National-owned rail line which runs through Panola County connecting Jackson and Memphis. During the late 20th century, the rail line’s owners downgraded the maintenance of the line, known as the "Grenada line," in favor of the "Valley line" which traverses a parallel route, but much of it through the Delta. Amtrak passenger train service was shifted to the Valley line in 1995.

Simmons replied that Canadian National still uses the line to serve the Nissan factory at Canton, moving empty car carriers. The railroad also has a contract with UPS that says the rail company "must have an alternate route," Simmons said.

In addition, Canadian National has agreed to upgrade the track from Como to Memphis when the Como mega-site finds a buyer, Simmons said.

"Are there any car manufacturers looking for a site?" asked accountant Bob Wadsworth.

Four auto manufacturers may be looking, Simmons said. Toyota faces a decision about whether to expand a San Antonio manufacturing facility for which Como was initially considered or to build an additional factory in the southeast; Nissan has run out of room in Smyrna, Tennessee and depleted the Jackson-area labor pool and may be considering another facility between those two locations; and "a couple of smaller companies are out there looking," Simmons said.

Replying to another question, the Partnership CEO said that a recent labor force comparison study confirmed that up to 6,500 employees out of a labor force of over 700,000 would be available for a large manufacturer that would locate to Como. The survey included potential employees within a 30-mile radius and those within a 60-mile radius.

Real estate broker Brad Baker asked Simmons what options have been arranged with the current owners of property at the site. Simmons replied that initial one-year options signed earlier this year can be renewed for an additional year.

Simmons said that Entergy’s certification of the site involves cooperation among state and local government and the utility.

"We’re trying to do everything we possibly can; we know what questions they’re (automotive manufacturing developers) are going to ask; they need to have solid answers," Simmons said.

Summary boils down good, bad
By Billy Davis

A 120-page labor study of Panola County was boiled down to a 19-page summary that suggested its "assets" as well as "challenges."

The following is a condensed version of that summary as written by the study’s author, The Wadley Donovan Group:

Panola County’s assets:

  • A 60-mile radius of the Como site boasts a population base of 1.5 million for the recruitment of workers.

    The unemployment rate is higher than national average and will help draw non-employed residents into the workforce.

  • The area boasts a young labor force, indicating a "sustained future labor force."
  • Educational attainment is close to the national average within the 60-mile labor zone and therefore favorable for a knowledge-based industrial operation. In the immediate area, the six schools in the South Panola School District are performing "successfully or exemplarily."
  • Manufacturing plays a "major role" in the region, employing 65,851 workers within a 60-mile radius.

    The employment of workers in manufacturing occupations exceeds the national average, and these workers would be a "key experienced skilled resource" for a manufacturing/assembly operation.

  • Employers report that they are "generally able" to fill professional and managerial jobs with hirings outside the region. Some candidates for those jobs have "initial reluctance" to relocate to the area, but visits show an "acceptable quality of life." Recruitment is more difficult outside the Southeast.

Key challenges:

  • Panola County boasts an approximate workforce of 15,115, which would require a large employer to fill staffing needs with workers outside the county.


  • The labor force within the 30-mile and 60-mile labor zones is growing more slowly than the national average, including among key 20- to 34-year-olds.
  • In the northern part of the county, four of the five public schools are "under-performing" according to state measures.
  • The percentage of residents without a high school diploma is higher within the 60-mile labor zone (23.8 percent) than the national average (19.6 percent) and even higher in the 30-mile zone (29.5 percent) and Panola County (36.5 percent).
  • Employers within the 60-mile zone report "some difficulty" recruiting for some occupations. Fair-to-poor availability was reported for technicians, safety and health technicians, medical and clinical laboratory technicians, GIS technicians, automation/robotics technicians, scientists, biomedical engineering technicians, pharmacy technicians, physical therapists, skilled machine trades, and CNC machine operators.
  • Employers rely on traditional recruiting techniques and seldom or never recruit workers form the region’s community colleges, technical schools and career centers.
  • The basic skill levels of job applicants are "borderline satisfactory" in written communication, reading comprehension, math, thinking and judgement, and verbal communication/comprehension.
  • Employers’ computer-skill requirements are not being met by their workers.

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