By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – In late June 2005, then-Republican Gov. Haley Barbour called his third special session of the year – this one to pass an economic development bond package.
The package had died during the 2005 regular session because House Democrats objected that the governor would not consider any of their proposals in the package.
When legislators met in special session, the outlook for reaching agreement was bleak. But a proposal offered by Northeast Mississippi House members to create the Mississippi Jobs Protection Act was accepted by Barbour, breaking the logjam and bringing an end to the special session.
Legislators said the intent of the program was to help preserve jobs in industries where there was a risk they would move their operations or at least some of their jobs to foreign countries, such as the furniture industry, a leading employer in Northeast Mississippi.
“We were trying to save jobs, not only create jobs,” said then-Rep. Harvey Moss of Corinth, a member of the Ways and Means Committee that helped develop the proposal. “We thought it was just as important to save jobs as it was to create jobs.”
The original proposal was funded with a $12 million bond package. During the recently completed 2013 session, an additional $3 million in bonds was approved for the Mississippi Jobs Protection Act Fund.
“The goal of the fund to support existing industry in our state, and the jobs these businesses provide, is worthwhile,” said Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Kathy Gelston, chief financial officer for the Mississippi Development Authority, said the Jobs Protection Act is “is a great tool. A lot of times a company needs a little help with some infrastructure or some refitting to remain competitive, but is not in position right then to create new jobs.”
Larry Gentry, chief financial officer for Max Home in Fulton said the program not only helped save jobs at the Itawamba County furniture manufacturer, but also helped add 100 jobs.
Gentry said the company received $295,000 in Jobs Protection Act funds in 2010 to help with the construction of a 160,000-foot addition. He said the company pledged to add 100 jobs. At the time the expansion was proposed, the company was employing 465 people. Now it has 575 employees.
The jobs created, he said, were cut and sew positions. In recent years, Northeast Mississippi has lost many of its cut and sew jobs to China and other foreign countries where labor costs are much cheaper.
“The program did work for us,” he said. “We were able to do exactly what we said we would do.”
According to information compiled by the Mississippi Development Authority, since July 1, 2009, grants totaling $4.8 million have been awarded from the program to match $122.4 million in private investment, preserving 10,440 jobs. MDA said the average state investment per job has been $463.
Besides Max Home, other Northeast Mississippi companies that have taken advantage of the program since 2009 include the Tupelo Furniture Market, Worthington Cylinders in Union County, Tecumseh in Lee, Caterpillar and Timber Products in Alcorn, and Ecowater and KXTechnologies in Tippah.
MDA officials said they wanted to provide additional help to the Tupelo Furniture Market, but at the time the fund was out of money.