South Mississippi’s Toyota’ goes to Alabama

hed: South Mississippi’s Toyota’ goes to Alabama

Mississippi lawmakers know the drill and they’ve heard it from the voters.

Central Mississippi in 2000 got a $1.4 billion, 5,000-plus-employee Nissan plant in Canton plus all the construction, paving, building materials and production supplier jobs that go with it. That doesn’t begin to address the increased retail activities that many people in one small expanse of space will generate.

Then Northeast Mississippi in 2007 lands a $1.3 billion, 2,000-worker assembly plant at Blue Springs, near Tupelo.

Toyota will build the Highlander sport utility vehicle, the company’s most popular SUV, at the new plant. Production is scheduled to begin by 2010 with about 2,000 workers.

But south Mississippians groused frequently that they were left out of the mega-project sweepstakes. Despite the explosion of the casino industry over the last decade in Harrison and Hancock counties, many Mississippians living south of Interstate 20 felt they weren’t getting their fair share of the state’s economic development dollar.

And while the groundbreaking ceremonies will be across the Alabama state line, it appears many of those concerns were addressed last week.

Barbour’s steel support

In February, Southern Business and Development publisher Mike Randle credited an alliance between Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley in which Barbour agreed to support an unnamed steel mill locating in Alabama if Mississippi got Toyota.

The first domino fell when Barbour, the Pontotoc-Union-Lee Alliance and the Mississippi Development Authority combined to lure Toyota to Blue Springs.

The second domino fell on Friday when Duesseldorf, Germany-based steel maker ThyssenKrupp AG announced that they would build a $3.7 billion, 2,700-employee steelmaking plant in Mobile County, Alabama some 30 miles north of Mobile by the Tombigbee River. The site of the plant is less than 40 miles from the Mississippi-Alabama state line and 60 miles from Lucedale in George County.

During the multi-year construction phase, direct and indirect employment from the ThyssenKrupp AG plant will reach 29,000. The plant location will not only be an economy-changing event for Alabama, but for the entire region from southeast Mississippi to the Florida panhandle

That fact is relevant. Unemployment rates in March showed several southeast Mississippi counties struggling with high unemployment rates rates comparable in some counties to joblessness in counties in the impoverished Delta region.

Those unemployment rates included: Wayne County, 10.5 percent; Clarke County, 9.1 percent; Greene County, 8.3 percent; and George County, 8.2 percent. Those four counties alone represent 2,750 Mississippians who need a job.

More jobs than workers

Between the massive reconstruction of the Gulf Coast both in terms of residential and small commercial buildings and the massive casino resort complexes and high-rise condominiums, there are more jobs on the Gulf Coast now than workers to fill them.

Now comes the promise of high-paying, quality jobs for southeast Mississippians living along the Alabama line from Clarke County south to Jackson County. Just as residents of Alabama and Tennessee will commute to Blue Springs seeking employment at Toyota, Mississippians will seek and find work at ThyssenKrupp’s steel mill.

The Delta and southwest Mississippi are still waiting on their lick on the mega-development lollipop. Both regions have pockets of disturbingly high unemployment. But ThyssenKrupp represents a major economic development triumph for Mississippians.

Sid Salter is a statewide syndicated columnist. He can be contacted by mail at 201 Dogwood Drive, Forest, MS 39074 or by e-mail at ssalter@jackson.gannett.com, or by phone at 601-961-7000.