Published 12:00 am Friday, June 13, 2008
By Billy Davis
If we still build it, they may still come.
Panola County supervisors Monday again heard a report that a prospective industry, a supplier for the coming Toyota automotive plant, is interested in locating to Panola County.
The message again came from Panola Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons, who repeated an earlier report that a Japanese company has visited undeveloped industrial park property near the airport and is “still interested” in the site.
Simmons has been preaching urgency since he reported the need for more industrial space, and the finances to develop the property, at a February 4 county meeting.
The Partnership CEO wants to begin by developing property near the airport and then develop property near Como and Interstate 55.
“I cannot overestimate the urgency of getting this done,” Simmons told the board then.
Since that date, however, a plan to fund development of new industrial property has crept forward.
A week after Simmons requested the board’s help, supervisors voted to allow a Jackson financial consultant, Charlie Johnson, to pursue funding for the industrial parks. The county board tabled Joiner’s hiring on March 11 when questions were raised about her fees, and then it voted to turn down her contract on April 14 to pursue funding with help from bond attorneys, a more traditional funding option.
At the April 14 meeting, board attorney Bill McKenzie also urged supervisors to communicate with Simmons about funding and publicize the amount of bonds as soon as possible.
Simmons has returned to the board since February, on Monday, May 6, to announce that the airport property will be developed in phases in order to market it sooner to prospective industries.
At this week’s June 9 board meeting, bond funding for the airport property made some progress when Simmons introduced bond attorney Demery Grubbs to the board of supervisors.
Grubbs urged supervisors to develop a “Christmas list” that describes their priorities for developing new industrial property in the county.
“My kids want a lot that won’t fit under the tree,” Grubbs said. “What you want to borrow and what you can borrow – those are two different things.”
Following Grubbs’ “Christmas list” description, Simmons repeatedly suggested to the board to set a date for a “work session” to discuss with Simmons their ideas for industrial development. After his third mention of a work session, Simmons reported that Panola County is being eyed by industries despite a stagnant economy – a point he had made in past months.
“Overall I can tell you that industrial projects – both new and expanding – have slowed down almost to a standstill,” Simmons told the board.
Reached Thursday, board president Robert Avant said supervisors may discuss setting a date for a work session when they meet on June 27 for a recess meeting.
Simmons told the board that he is pursuing economic development loans through the state’s Miss. Development Authority and TVA. Both agencies have programs that allow for a maximum loan of $1 million.
In other county business:
•The county’s solid waste department is seeking a new manager following the resignation of Dean Joiner.
County Administrator David Chandler sought permission from the board to pursue a replacement, adding that he has received several applications for the position.
The solid waste manager oversees garbage pickup in the county and several municipalities for which Joiner was paid $47,600 annually.
“Go on and hire somebody,” replied Avant, apparently speaking for the board.
Avant’s response drew a question from board meeting attendee Bob Bryant, who asked if supervisors are required to post the job in a public place.
“It’s an in-house position that falls under the county administrator’s job,” Chandler responded.
“Anybody can apply,” Avant added.
“That knows about it,” Bryant replied.
•Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey sought assurance that supervisors plan to cooperate with the City of Batesville’s plan to construct and operate an animal shelter.
“I just wanted to make sure y’all are on board,” Autrey said. “We’re about to bid and get this thing going.”
Avant advised that the county still backs the plan and advised Autrey to “move forward.”
Autrey was accompanied by Alderman Stan Harrison.