By Dennis Seid
TUPELO – General Atomics, the San Diego-based defense contractor, has expanded its facility in Lee County eight times since opening in the Tupelo Lee Industrial Park South nearly 10 years ago.
Scott Forney, the company’s senior vice president who also heads its electromagnetic systems division, said that wouldn’t have happened without the work of Mississippi’s congressional delegation that includes U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Alan Nunnelee, and by the state’s senior senator, Thad Cochran.
“More than $1 billion has flowed through Tupelo in the last five years because of Cochran’s leadership,” said Forney, alluding to the value of the contracts, salaries and related work done at General Atomics.
Cochran is in a Republican runoff battle with state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is seeking to oust the six-term incumbent. The vote is Tuesday, with the winner facing Democrat Travis Childers in November.
On the steps of Tupelo City Hall on Thursday, business leaders including Forney, Hawkeye Industries CEO Brian Hawkins and Circadence program manager John Nipp made their pitches for Cochran, citing his experience and leadership in helping the state and nation.
General Atomics employs 120 people in Lee County and that figure should reach 150 soon. Forney said during the last recession, the company endured a difficult period from 2008-2009, but Cochran, along with other state leaders, helped ensure that the company would continue to operate.
Hawkins, a former president of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association, said his defense industry-related work is tied to the machinations in Washington. Hawkins said having an experienced leader there is important for thousands of people in Mississippi.
“It’s just a no-brainer,” said Hawkins, who employs 28 people.
“People need to understand that the office of a senator is more than one person. You have an experienced, well-educated and informed staff, led by a senator. … that’s who we need to keep in Washington.”