2021 was banner year for local industry growth

Published 9:42 am Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Calendar year 2021 was one of growth for the county, both north and south, with new plants locating here and several major expansions started or announced. The estimated $76 million in capital investment with those projects will result in the creation of several hundred non-covid related jobs, said Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar.

Over the past 12 months Azar logged thousands of travel miles and his office staff spent hundreds of hours putting together presentations for prospective industry. Some were small projects with the potential to add a few jobs to the local economy, and others were much larger with the potential to make a serious impact on employment numbers in Panola County.

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“Big or small we tried to give each project our best effort,” Azar said. “Our office did a tremendous job this year, and the results speak for themselves. This was a banner year for Panola County and we have more good news to announce in the new year.”

“The progress of economic growth can be hard to see in a community sometimes because projects move slowly and major news doesn’t happen every week. This has been a great year for Panola, though, and I’m very proud the Partnership was able to be part of many successful projects throughout Panola County. It’s important that we work to grow all of the county because any growth ultimately improves opportunities for all of us that live here.”

Azar is quick to attribute the Partnership’s successful 2021 in attracting industry to strong backing of the county’s board of supervisors and the aldermen in Batesville, Sardis, Pope, Courtland, Como, Crenshaw, and Crowder. Good relationships with state legislators and Congressional representatives and senators also mean his office can seek the direct support of elected officials when appropriations of industry enhancing grants and loans are made in the region.

Much of the Partnership’s industry recruitment efforts are focused on facilitating meetings that bring together state and national officials with investors and business owners in hopes of matching available loans and governmental investment with potential projects.

The Partnership’s resources and ability to present an array of information to potential industry entities can be the difference in landing a new business, or helping current plants secure loans for expansions.

Some of the highlights of the county’s economic growth during 2021 include the following.

  • CITE Armored moved into the former Serta building in north Batesville, also purchasing the vacant Steel Services building adjacent to the property. The company, founded in Holly Springs and co-owned by Panola County native Teresa Hubbard, moved part of its business here, with plans for future expansion. The company specializes in custom security manufacturing that includes armored vehicles used to move currency and other valuables between banks and other financial institutions. CITE Armored also has built prototype armored vehicles as part of a process to secure federal contracts.
  • GreenServ moved its headquarters from Oxford to Batesville, locating in the former Tucker building in the Harmon Industrial Park. GreenServ offers its customers full collection and disposal services for medical waste. Most companies in that industry are actually middlemen, merely collecting medical waste and transporting to treating and disposal facilities whereas GreenServ, with customers across the Southeast, handles collection, disposal, and undertakes the compliance requirements that producers of medical waste must operate under. GreenServ has added secure shredding of normal business documents, an arm of the company’s services that has seen major growth this year.
  • LockersMFG was recruited to Batesville by the Partnership to fill a long vacant Panola Mills building on Pearson St. The 62,000 square foot building has been completely renovated and now houses several lines of sophisticated machinery capable of designing and producing high-end lockers for use in schools, professional locker rooms, manufacturing facilities, and even residential use. The company was founded in 2013 and expanded to Batesville earlier this year. Employee training is underway and manufacturing is expected to begin early 2022. The LockersMFG owner, during a tour of the facility for media this summer, said he was impressed with the eagerness of city aldermen and Azar’s office to bring the business to Batesville. City officials committed to a multi-million infrastructure upgrade, mostly water and sewer projects long needed in west Batesville.
  • Humic Growth Solutions, headquartered in Jacksonville, FL, opened a plant in the Sardis Industrial Park this year, and later purchased additional land from the Town of Sardis for expansion.  Humic Growth hauls mined humic acid to the Sardis facility where it is made into humic powder or granules. These are used in place of, or with, traditional fertilizers that contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Humic is high concentration carbon and enriches soil to increase crop yields and overall plant health, while reducing the need for other less natural fertilizers.
  • Also in the Sardis Industrial Park, Inca Presswood Pallets had an expansion in 2021, adding employees for an extrusion department that will allow the company to broaden its product lines.
  • Another neighboring industry to Inca is Sardis, Chromcraft also had plant additions and improvements that allow for product expansion. The company, officially named Chromcraft Revington Douglas, has the Panola County manufacturing site and warehouses and headquarters in Ontario, CA. Once located in Senatobia, Chromcraft has been a producer of furniture for homes and offices through companies it has acquired since the 1900s.
  • United Solutions this year completed an expansion project that began in 2019 in the Sardis Industrial Park. That expansion was possible with the help of the Panola County Board of Supervisors and the North Delta Planning and Development office, Azar said. United Solutions manufactures a variety of containers and totes for Rubbermaid and other buckets and containers for other companies. For example, the company this year made millions of the blue, five gallon Lowe’s buckets sold in the paint departments of stores nationwide.
  • Sardis had one other new industry locate in the industrial park this year, Five Star Equipment Company. That company deals in used farm and construction machinery, including internet auctions and owner consignment options.
  • The Partnership connected two local business men and a group of local investors that led to the construction of a 18,000 square foot medical marijuana cultivation facility in the Airport Industrial Park. Hybrid Relief, LLC, will produce enough marijuana to supply at least two retail dispensaries, according to investor Tony Barragain. Azar said he expects forthcoming state legislation will provide guidance for the operation.
  • Working with North Delta Planning and Development and Mendrop Engineering, the Partnership is overseeing four grant projects that will improve infrastructure for both industrial parks in Batesville, and provide relief for businesses and residential customers who have been subject to inadequate sewer wastewater removal systems, especially in north and west Batesville.
  • Home Place Pastures in Como and PItcock Meats in Pope received meat processing grants to promote their businesses with help of the Partnership and state Senator Nicole Boyd.
  • With cooperation from the city and county boards, the Partnership and the office of Gov. Tate Reeves put together a drive-thru job fair at the Civic Center for local industries. The event was held during a time many retailers and industries nationwide were shut down because of Covid infections among employees, or because of a lack of available workers. The job fair was the first of its kind since the pandemic began, and drew national television news coverage.
  • The Partnership worked to attract new retail businesses to the county during the past 12 months, including the soon-to-open Dodge’s Store, Jack’s Restaurant, Delta Car Wash, Costa Mexican Grill, and others. Back Yard Burgers was also assisted in the project to raze and completely rebuild its restaurant location here.
  • Azar said meetings have been held between leaders at TVA, TVEPA, Clearloop Solar and Silicon Ranch Solar to locate a solar farm in Panola County.
  • TVEPA and North Delta Planning and Development have been recruited by the Partnership to bring electric vehicle charging stations to locations near the I-55 and Batesville interchange, and to the Downtown Square.
  •  The Partnership worked with the Panola County Community Foundation and local industries to obtain funding for the Panola County Emergency Management Operations for the acquisition of two RKO transport systems for two of their ATV’s.  This allows our emergency teams to safely transport an injured individual from obscure locations. They are also helping relocate the EMO office and convert the current building into a  new drug court. The Partnership is also assisting in the location of a new, larger morgue for the county.
  • As one of its ongoing projects to promote tourism in the county, the Partnership is working with the new owners of the Arena One property, who want to bring national events to the venue, including major equestrian events and concerts.
  • Working with potential developers and investors has also been a large part of the Partnership’s efforts this year. Currently a study is being developed  to determine the scope of a major development on I-55 behind WalMart. The developer of this ambitious plan is Kenny Farrell of Memphis would include several phases of construction and see the now-vacant property transformed with a new convention center/theatre, retail shops, office spaces, and some housing. If the current study indicates the site will support development, local leaders will begin the process of receiving and reviewing proposals from national companies in the business of building and operating the work/play/live communities.
  • The Partnership  is also working with another developer, Interstate Real Estate Group, to locate on city-owned property behind KC’s Steakhouse for the recruitment of three retail businesses owned by national chains.
  • The Partnership financed a professional rendering of a new sports complex for the City of Batesville to consider. They are also negotiating with landowners for a location for this complex. Tentatively planned for the area behind Lowe’s, other locations closer to the north Batesville exit are also being considered.
  •  The Partnership recently traveled with Sardis officials to Washington, D. C., to potentially acquire a deed from the U. S. Corps of Engineers for the 1,100 acres surrounding the Marina that Sardis currently leases.  This deed would allow Sardis to market their lake recreation and tourism complex to developers, and at the same time, protect the flood control regulations that currently exist.
  • This year a new promoter was located by the Partnership to bring back the original Polar Express for the future. This is now simply contingent upon cooperation between the promoter and the Grenada Railroad with the logistics of the popular Christmas time event having already been settled.
  • The Partnership office, with participation from the Main Street Program, also held a number of ribbon cuttings for small businesses and retail shops in Batesville and Panola County this year. Some were re-openings in larger locations and others were new endeavors undertaken by investors wanting to be part of the local economy.