Partnership joined efforts to secure Grenada Railway 4/26/2016

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 29, 2016

Partnership joined efforts to secure Grenada Railway

By John Howell
In each of the last three Friday editions, The Panolian has featured the community services and benefits provided by the Panola Partnership and Batesville Main Street. The first installment on April 8, “Partnership’s multiple roles serve community,” explored the many services that Partnership personnel and volunteers provide throughout the county.

On April 15, architectural designer Angela Clanton of ILLUS Visual and Design Arts discussed the opportunities that have opened for her and relationships she has been able to build through the Partnership and Main Street since she moved her business to Batesville 2008.

The April 22 edition included the story of L3 Media and how Anderson Boothe and Marcus Jones used all of the small business services offered through or suggested by the Partnership to found a video and photography business that has in four years grown far beyond their expectations.

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Today’s final installment takes a look at the Partnership’s least visible but most important functions — recruitment of new industry and commercial development along with retention and support of existing industry and business.

Any announcement of a new industry coming to Panola County has usually been preceded by months of behind-the-scenes negotiations that often includes the Mississippi Development Authority, state and regional elected officials, county and city officials — perhaps more.

As the Panola Partnership’s executive director, Sonny Simmons is usually the liaison who coordinates the negotiations — detailed discussions of state, regional or local incentives that might be offered to lure an industry to Panola County, what public or privately held land might be available and what infrastructure is on site and who will provide it if it’s not. The details are endless, but what Simmons and anyone with whom he talks with regard to a potential industrial client have in common is that they are bound by signed confidentiality agreements.

“A big part of what we do is based on relationships. We have to have established relationships with site location consultants and others in order to maximize our efforts,” Simmons. These relationships are so important to what we do.”

“Most of what we do, until something is announced, is behind the scenes,” Simmons said. “We have to work with state agencies, federal agencies and local elected officials — most of that is done behind the scenes before a project is announced.”

And for every project that gets announced, according to Simmons and Partnership Economic Development Assistant Meredith Fleming, “There are many more that we submit information on that may go elsewhere. Our goal is to land them all, but in reality, that is not possible,” Fleming said. 

“That may be something the public doesn’t understand because of the confidentiality agreements that are executed, we can’t publicize it,” Simmons said.

Yet announcements have come, even during the lean years following 2008 — from GE Aviation that has exceeded $100 million investment in the Batesville plant with over 400 employees to Cube Ice Company’s expansion to become the first occupant of the Airport Industrial Park with a $2 million investment that now employs 30 people. Other new locations include, Anderson Technologies, Toyoda Gosei, and Flowers Foods. “We have also assisted eleven of our existing industries with expansions during the past few years that resulted in additional jobs and investments,” Simmons said.

“Saving the railroad from being abandoned was a huge success for this whole area,” Simmons said. “We would not have had the Polar Express come to Batesville if we did not save it. Potential industries that need rail would become impossible to recruit.”

The Partnership was a partner in last year’s purchase of Grenada Railway by the North Central Mississippi Railroad Authority (NCMRRA) and the coinciding lease for its operation to Iowa Pacific Railroad. NCMRRA had its origins in meetings held after the announcement in 2009 that CN Railroad was selling the Southaven-to-Canton segment of the old Illinois Central line to a rail salvage company. Simmons represented the Partnership at the initial meetings of civic leaders from the affected counties who coalesced into NCMRRA. He was elected treasurer and is a member of the NCMRRA executive committee.

As NCMRRA fought off repeated attempts by the salvage company to abandon the south segment of the line, it lobbied local, state and national officials, jumped through regulatory restrictions and finally convinced the State of Mississippi to finance $30 million of the purchase and the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) to loan another $13 million to complete the purchase.

The announcement that finally came in late July, 2015 had been in the making for six years.
Though negotiations with potential clients are confidential, the Partnership tilts to the other extreme when promoting Panola County. During Simmons’ tenure as Partnership CEO the organization’s web site has been honed to provide viewers with a comprehensive overview of the county. With a few keystrokes, anyone from an industrial site location specialist to a family planning its vacation can learn about us and find links to needed related information.

Prominently featured at is the Airport Industrial Park recently expanded at Highway 35 and Interstate 55, to “about 410 useable acres of land, strategically located and suitable for industrial development,” Simmons said, speaking at the 20th annual Partnership banquet last month. “This acquisition will solidify our chances for future industrial growth for many years to come,” Simmons said.

Improvements to the property have been financed through matching grants from the MDA and the Tennessee Valley Authority, making the property more attractive and more visible from I-55.
“That is a very, very smart effort on your behalf,” Mississippi Manufacturers Association President and CEO Jay Moon said, speaking at the Partnership’s annual spring membership banquet last month. “Economic development is happening at a much faster pace today, and when site location consultants and companies come to your area and are looking at what you have to offer on your Web site, and they see that you have invested in your industrial park and have made the kinds of commitments that you have made to businesses in this area, then they know this is a place where they can do business and be profitable,” Moon continued.

“You look at economic development and development in your community as a team effort,”
“There are so many positive things going on in Panola County right now,” the Partnership CEO said. “But if we are going to reach our greatest potential, we are all going to have to continue to work together, make the needed investments, work hard to develop our workforce, and continue to prepare in advance for the economic opportunities that will come our way. If we do this,” Simmons continued, “we will see new investments and new job creations that will bring sustained growth and prosperity for many years to come.”