A virtually ironclad commitment by the Olin Corp. to move its Winchester Centerfire munitions operation to Oxford culminates an economic development courtship that started late in 2003 during the final weeks of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s administration.
It was handed off to Gov. Haley Barbour’s team in the Mississippi Development Authority, Oxford/Lafayette County development officials, and the Three Rivers Planning and Development District. Last week, Olin, in the face of a labor union’s demands at its East Alton, Ill., plant, made the decision to move to Oxford with 1,000 good jobs.
The company makes all of the munitions carrying the acclaimed Winchester label, and it is a U.S. defense contractor, too.
Extraordinary teamwork spread across seven years led to the Olin decision, which brings to about 5,000 the new manufacturing jobs announced for northern Mississippi since 2007.
Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said the state has committed $25 million to Olin’s move; that’s enough to build a new plant on an undeveloped site. Lafayette County’s investment will run between $5 million and $6 million. Three Rivers’ commitment includes at least $250,000 per year for three years for on-the-job training.
The state’s commitment was made possible by smart legislation passed in 2010: the Mississippi Industrial Incentives Financing Revolving Fund. So far, its availability has led to more than $200 million in investment since early in the year. One of the biggest commitments came in May when McKesson said it was building a $115 million distribution center in Olive Branch, moving 300 employees from Memphis. Soladigm, a glass firm, made a $130 million commitment in Olive Branch with 300 jobs. Twin Creeks Technologies is bringing 500 jobs to Senatobia.
The end-result financial packages make headlines in parallel with the great news about much-needed jobs, but the background story is equally impressive because it discretely displays the sophistication of Mississippi’s economic development strategy and execution.
Three Rivers’ Executive Director Vernon R. “Randy” Kelley III said the confidentiality required in working to get Olin’s commitment was extraordinary and included not knowing the company’s identity for an extended period because of its internal requirements. It worked through a consultant who met in strictest confidence with a small number of key decision-makers and deal-makers in Mississippi.
Olin had options other than Mississippi, developers who followed the process said. It could have chosen other states, Mexico, or other international locations.
Developers, Kelley and Community Development Foundation CEO David Rumbarger said, use a combination of methods and searches to find out when businesses and industries are looking to move:
* Existing industries whose executives pass on information from colleagues and peers.
* Networking through trade shows and conferences, always a big-budget item.
* Internet searches.
* Working through partner organizations, and working with the state and agencies like the Tennessee Valley Authority, which has a strong economic development history.
And sometimes, the industries come to them.
Swoope, a Northeast Mississippi native and Mississippi State University graduate, said having the state resources to immediately let firms know what the state can do to help is critical.
Swoope, ever the developer said, “We think with this move that Olin should consider moving its corporate headquarters to Mississippi.”
NEMS Daily Journal