Published 12:00 am Friday, July 18, 2008
By Billy Davis
A who’s who of Panola County leadership gathered in a Panola Partnership boardroom Tuesday evening to divvy up responsibilities for construction of a new industrial park in Batesville.
Twenty minutes later, Partnership CEO Sonny Simmons had delivered the details: the City of Batesville will supply water, sewer, and natural gas to the site, and Panola County supervisors will perform engineering work, construct a 2,000-foot road, and design and create an impressive entrance.
To jumpstart the project, the Partnership has already allocated $37,000 for engineering work.
Simmons and Batesville engineer Blake Mendrop reassured the gathering that funding can be located to pay for a first-phase development of the site, estimated to cost $1.4 million.
According to Simmons, Panola County can pursue a CAP loan from the Miss. Development Authority. The loan is typically capped at $750,000, but MDA has agreed to loan up to $1 million, he said.
Mendrop said the City of Batesville will apply for a $100,000 Small Municipalities grant from MDA.
When a Panola County delegation travels to Washington, D.C. in September, local officials will also request federal monies to construct a turning lane into the park entrance and purchase a water tank.
In addition to city and county officials, Tuesday’s gathering included members of the Industrial Development Authority, which owns the property, and members of the Partnership’s board of directors.
“It was rare to bring all of those entities together face to face, but I wanted them all to understand that everybody is a player in this game,” Simmons said after the meeting.
Simmons has been urging swift construction of a new industrial park since February, when he advised that Batesville’s W.H. Harmon Industrial Park could no longer support many of the industrial prospects interested in the city.
The new industrial property is located along Highway 35 North near the county airport and is informally referred to as the airport site.
Prospective industries have already visited the undeveloped site, and Simmons told the assembly Tuesday that more prospects are expected to visit the property by month’s end.
Responding to a question from the room, Simmons said he believes the site can be ready by winter.
“I hope to get it ‘pad ready’ before the rain starts in December,” the Partnership CEO said, referring to a site that is ready for construction.
“We’ll be surveying next week and boring the week after that,” Mendrop added.
Simmons also said Tuesday that Toyota’s recent announcement that its Blue Springs plant will build the hybrid car Prius instead of the Highlander SUV “should positively affect Panola County,” a prediction made only after he communicated with Toyota officials and the Miss. Development Authority.
Tier-one supplier Toyoda Gosei, which bought the former MOOG building, makes composite materials that benefit the light Prius, so Toyota’s switch to the Prius could mean more orders for the supplier and more jobs for Panola County, Simmons said.
Simmons and the Partnership originally envisioned development of the entire Highway 35 tract at a cost of $5 million, but interest from industrial prospects led to a quicker plan: construction of two pad-ready sites that will accommodate 100,000-square-foot buildings.
The entire 254-acre site was zoned for industrial use by the Panola County Land Development Commission. The property stretches from Highway 35 to the Tallahatchie River.
When development of the airport property is completed, the Partnership could move forward with a tentative plan to develop property near Como and Interstate 55. Simmons has said DeSoto County is running out of property for distribution centers, and those businesses are looking south for new sites.
Panola County industries account for about one-fourth of the county’s job market.