SID SALTER: Bryant’s new MDA team earns respect with Yokohama

By Sid Salter

Is it appropriate to talk about Gov. Phil Bryant’s successful courtship of the Yokohama Tire Company plant to West Point made public this week in the same breath with economic development icons like the state’s Nissan and Toyota plants?
Mississippi taxpayers provided $363 million worth of incentives for Nissan, which came promising 5,300 jobs, $1.4 billion in capital investment and a 3.5 million sq. ft. facility.
Former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s administration will be remembered for his role in landing the Nissan auto plant at Canton – then the largest economic development project in Mississippi’s history. Perhaps Musgrove had a more difficult task simply because he was the first governor to ask Mississippi lawmakers for economic incentives that large and expansive.
Later, Mississippi taxpayers provided $330 million worth of incentives for Toyota based on the promise of 2,000 jobs and a $1.3 billion capital investment in yet another behemoth manufacturing facility.
Former Gov. Haley Barbour’s administration will likewise be remember for his role in landing the Toyota auto plant at Blue Springs – an economic victory at least on par with the Nissan plant. Both Nissan and Toyota brought with them tiers of suppliers that served the auto plants and brought even more development and more jobs to communities surrounding Canton and Blue Springs.
Bryant quietly and effectively led his reconstituted Mississippi Development Authority through a long and complex courtship of Yokohama to a site in West Point. As the Pontotoc–Union–Lee Alliance worked the “mega site” local end of the deal that ultimately led to Toyota coming to Blue Springs, the Golden Triangle Development Link played a vital role in making the Yokohama deal happen.
The GTDL or “Link” economic development consortium is comprised of West Point and Clay County, Columbus and Lowndes County and Starkville and Oktibbeha County. The consortium developed a 500–acre mega site.
But Bryant’s secret effort culminated in a one–day special session to gain passage of $130 million in incentives for 500 immediate new jobs and the promise of 1,500 more in planned phased expansions.
After the Nissan and Toyota deals were done, there was more than a little grousing done among the state’s more conservative lawmakers and by public interest groups about the incentive “cost per job” figures generated in the Nissan and Toyota deals. “Clawbacks” became part of the state’s economic development vernacular.
But most of the talk about more responsible economic development incentives were – as Mississippi struggled to compete for more and better jobs – just that.
The Yokohamo deal calls for “clawbacks” of $35,000 per job that the manufacturer fails to provide in each of the four 500–job phases.
Perhaps most notable in Bryant’s first major economic development victory is the fact that the plant location came in the county with the second highest jobless rate in the state. Clay County, ravaged for years after the reduction and later closing of the Sara Lee (formerly Bryan Brothers) operation, recorded unemployment rates of 18.2 percent.
One of the complaints about the Nissan and Toyota deals was that they didn’t create jobs in the areas where joblessness was more problematic. In Yokohama, Bryant courted and won a major employer in a locale that badly needed an economic anchor.
In this economy, in this plant location, Bryant establishes his new MDA team and his administration as job developers who can compete on a global scale. If Yokohama hits the 2,000 job mark, it will transform the region
SID SALTER is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601–507–8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com.