By NEMS Daily Journal
It was fitting that a special legislative session to fund projects that could ultimately produce an estimated 1,750 new jobs in north Mississippi ushered in the Labor Day weekend.
Gov. Haley Barbour called lawmakers to Jackson for a one-day gathering where they approved $175 million in loans and grants to two high-tech energy-related companies, Calisolar and HCL Clean Tech, who together will add a new dimension to a diversifying economy in this region.
California-based Calisolar, which will build a plant in Columbus and employ 950, will make silicon metal for use in automotive parts, consumer electronics and solar panels.
HCL Clean Tech, which will move its headquarters from North Carolina to Olive Branch, will turn wood chips into commercial grade sugar that can be used in a variety of products, including biofuels.
The company will employ 800 workers in several locations, and Booneville is one of the targeted sites.
These are high-paying jobs with good benefits. Salaries average $45,000 at Calisolar and $67,000 at HCL Clean Tech. The state investment is substantial, but the payoff should be worth it.
These companies join a growing list that demonstrate north Mississippi’s ability to compete for the kinds of jobs that can build a new and lasting foundation for the region’s economy.
They come at a time when an entirely new economic sector in the region – automotive – is about to make a major impact. Toyota’s Blue Springs manufacturing plant is expected to begin production of the Corolla by the end of the year, culminating nearly five years of anticipation interrupted temporarily by a faltering economy.
The company already has 950 employees and expects to hire 600 more by the end of the year. It will be up to 2,000 in the spring of next year.
Direct suppliers in the region, meanwhile, are expected to add an additional 1,500-2,000 jobs. Many more indirect spinoff jobs no doubt will result.
All of this activity runs counter to the general pessimistic view still prevalent about the regional economy. Part of that is because our unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, but the signs are looking up.
The start of production at Toyota will be not only a practical jump-start to the region’s economy but a psychological boost as well. Some naysayers thought it would never happen, and everyone should be pleased that they were wrong.
Past Labor Days may have seen better overall economic statistics in this region, but few have see such promise on the horizon.