Local Economy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Despite national crisis, local economy set for growth

By Rupert Howell

While the nation’s economy is on the skids, local economic developer Sonny Simmons sounds joyously optimistic about what’s going on in Panola County concerning jobs.

His optimism comes from current commitments from incoming industry as well as expansion from existing industry.

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An equipment purchase by a local frame maker, changes in the automotive industry due to volatile oil prices and the official opening of the new General Electric facility have kept Simmons busy.

From the annual Southeast United States-Japan meeting being held through today in Raleigh, North Carolina, Simmons explained, “We are able to make contact with Japanese companies giving us an opportunity to have some face time with some of these corporate executives and share with them what’s going on in Mississippi and tell them specifically about Panola County.”

 Last week Simmons hosted Toyoda Gosie executives who came Tuesday and spent most of Wednesday with representatives of the WINN Job Center and NWCC concerning employee recruitment and training. They also talked with representatives of the State Tax Commission and the Mississippi Development Authority concerning programs and incentives for Mississippi industry. Attorneys for both the City of Batesville and Panola County also met briefly with the Toyoda representatives concerning timing and requirements for applying for local ad valorem tax exemptions.

Toyoda Gosie is a major supplier to carmaker Toyota and is set to open in the former MOOG building.

“They have indicated that they will start seeking employees about April of next year and start gearing up for manufacturing  sometime later next fall,” according to Simmons who predicted the company would add more numbers to the original 125 job figure.

Simmons explained the Toyota’s decision to make their fuel efficient Prius at the nearby new Northeast Mississippi facility (moving the planned production of the Highlander to an existing plant elsewhere) means additional employment and investment down the road.

 “Prius is their premier vehicle. They know that line of cars will be most fuel efficient and they know that line of cars will continue to be in demand not only in the U.S. but in the world. That should also encourage additional suppliers to support that need and should guarantee the future will be bright,” Simmons said.

Simmons also stated that the local manufacturer Framed Pictures Enterprise will be expanding.

“My understanding is they (Framed Pictures) purchased equipment creating need for additional space. That equipment will be shipped in a couple of weeks,” Simmons said.

Simmons said that he had contacted owners of a building near the current Framed Pictures facility in hopes that an agreement could be reached to use it for the expansion.

Batesville Mayor Jerry Autrey said that he had been asked what was available at the industrial park that could be quickly used to house the newly acquired equipment and said that nothing was currently available there.

Simmons knew about the newer section of the old “Compress” building on Highways 35 and 6 W and suggested that owners of the building and Framed Pictures get together.

Sledge Taylor, who is one of the owners of the building, said that he was contacted about the possibility of use of the building by Framed Pictures but has yet to make contact with the Bruckner family who owns the factory.

Taylor did say that he and other owners would like see the building used to help create employment for Panola County.

Dennis Erb, human resource manager for Framed Pictures, said Monday that he wasn’t aware of any expansion.

Meanwhile, General Electric is right on schedule with their first round of employees already in place and they are now installing equipment into the building.

“They’ll start production real, real soon,” Simmons stated.