LINK discusses industrial park’s potential


LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins updates Starkville and Oktibbeha County board members on the potential for economic development that comes with the industrial park project. (Photo By Faith Lifer, SDN)

By: 
Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

In Monday morning’s joint meeting, representatives from the city and county discussed the economic future of the industrial park project, along with the obstacles holding them back.

The Starkville Board of Aldermen and Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors met with members of the Oktibbeha County Economic Development Association (OCEDA) on Monday morning for a special joint-meeting.

Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins and District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams were absent from the meeting.

Members from the Golden Triangle Development LINK came to the meeting to give a presentation on the ongoing construction of the industrial park project and its potential for recruiting industry along with the overall economic development opportunities involved with the project.

The land for the industrial park project is within Starkville’s city limits, located on roughly 380 acres of property on the northwest corner of the city, with its westernmost point at the intersection of the Highway 82 and Highway 25 interchange.

The property runs east back to the intersection of Highway 82 and and Highway 389 intersection. OCEDA owns the land.

INDUSTRIAL PARK UPDATES

LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins opened the presentation.

“We thought it would be a good idea to get everyone around the table, talk about where we are, what we’ve got and howwe’re doing it,” Higgins said. “We’re going to let this serve at this quarter’s update.”

One update announced was a contract with Burns Construction for the project’s water, sewage and road construction, which will begin on Aug. 15.

By late summer, Higgins expects all construction to be underway. The water and sewer should take under a year to complete.

Higgins also addressed an update involving the historical artifacts at the location.

“We’ve had numerous meetings with all the appropriate parties,” Higgins said of people involved in the site’s archaeological work. “We have what we believe is an agreement that all sides can agree to.”

Higgins believes the archaeological work on the site will be finished by the end of this calendar year.

Altogether, Higgins believes the park will be fully developed for marketing by next year.

ONGOING LEGAL CONFLICT
One setback for potential economic development is the ongoing zoning lawsuit involving a dispute over the land.

In May 2017, Circuit Court Judge Jim Kitchens ruled to uphold the city’s decision to rezone the property as industrial land for the industrial park, however there are legal disputes over the land’s rezoning.

The lower court of appeals will hear the case sometime before the end of the calendar year.

The appellants listed are LMK LLC, Bettye Bell, Mary. S. Bell and Laura B. White.

With the pending zoning litigation, a client cannot currently be guaranteed the land will remain industrial land. Therefore, the land is limited to distribution and offices, which will not generate the tax revenue the city and county wants.

“Understand this, you’re losing opportunities daily,” Higgins said.

Higgins was in Atlanta last week for an $81 million project that will require 20 acres of land. The opportunity would bring 300 jobs at $40,000 per year. The LINK’s preferred site for that opportunity would have been the industrial park, but currently, the land cannot be used for the project.

“We need to get it resolved quickly, because the community is suffering (from the pending litigation),” Higgins said.

THE FUTURE OF STARKVILLE AND OKTIBBEHA COUNTY

Higgins has two main requests of the city and county to help them become a competitive market.

Higgins emphasized the importance of responding to company bids quickly, adding the longest the LINK can realistically wait to respond to companies is three days.

“You don’t have time to call meetings and give public notice,” Higgins said to the board members. “By the time you call the meeting, we already have to have the request for proposal out.”

Tax incentives also play a role in remaining competitive. For any desirable project under $60 million, the LINK recommends the company be given 100 percent tax exemption from city and county taxes, solely paying school taxes for a period of 10 years.

Higgins explained the incentive was important for investment in future opportunity growth.

However, for any project over $60 million, the city and the county won’t have to wait 10 years for tax revenue.

Higgins used the potential $81 million project in Atlanta as an example that Starkville and Oktibbeha County can land projects over $60 million.

Higgins also emphasized the importance of trust to the city and county board members.

“We work for you. You must trust us to have your best interest at heart, the companies best interest at heart and trying to figure out a way to make this thing happen to get the ‘yes,’” Higgins said. “If you don’t trust us, it’s not going to work.”

“On the time frames that we’re on, on some of this, we’ve gotta take our clothes off and dive out naked in the moshpit and hope somebody catches us,” Higgins described. “And that’s about what it feels like sometimes.”

Higgins addressed his concern over certain distrust in the room.

“I don’t want to embarrass you or us by going out and selling a deal that I think will work because I look around, and y’all don’t want me to name you, but there are some of you who I don’t know how you’re going to vote and it’s scary,” Higgins continued.

Ward 5 Alderman Patrick Miller asked Higgins what they needed from the city and the county.

“Here’s what I need,” Higgins said. “If you got a problem, let us know so we can figure it out.”

JOB CREATION

Oktibbeha County has the highest poverty rate out of any of the counties with which the LINK works.

The LINK emphasized their philosophy of improving the opportunities for the city and the county.

“In the Golden Triangle, we do encourage that our communities keep an eye on, not just livability, but long-term planning for their communities, to ensure that these are going to be places that not only newcomers might want to live but that we might want to stay,” Golden Triangle Development Link COO Macaulay Whitaker said. “And I think in Mississippi, that’s something we’re all acutely aware of.”

Miller also addressed keeping people in Starkville and Oktibbeha County. Miller hopes to change the narrative of residents leaving the community for opportunity elsewhere.

Higgins believes bringing in better opportunities is key to the narrative change.

“We don’t go after and heavily incentivize deals that don’t pay more than our county averages, because you can’t make your place a better place by going after jobs,” Higgins said. “You need to go after good jobs.”

“Our philosophy is, we don’t want to bring jobs to a community that pays at or below the average,” Higgins concluded. “We want to bring jobs that pay more than the average, because that makes it a better place.”

Board of Supervisors Vice President and District 1 Supervisor John Montgomery addressed his hope for economic progress.

Montgomery said when he took office in 2012, there was no economic development and no planning.

“People asked me if we could compete with Lowndes County,” Montgomery said. “We’ve taken a lot of the steps to get to where we can compete with Lowndes County in our region, and I think Starkville and Oktibbeha County have become a lot more desirable for businesses and existing businesses to expand.”

BUDGET

So far, Higgins is pleased with the current trend of the project’s budget.

The cost estimate for substation site preparation was higher than its construction cost.

In addition, the cost for water, sewer and road construction was $600,000 under the engineer’s estimate.

Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk asked for further explanation, assuming the budget remains under estimates.

“Assuming that you come in under the $14 million that we’ve issued in bonds, what happens to that money,” Sistrunk asked. Higgins clarified the money would still need to be spent within the park, so any potential surplus funds would most likely be spent on “enhancements” within the park.

According to Higgins, the next update from the LINK will most likely be in the fall.

“I think we covered a tremendous amount of information for the elected officials,” Higgins said after the meeting. “I praise them on their attentiveness. We had a lot of stuff to cover.”

Mayor Lynn Spruill also thought the meeting went well.

“I think it was very beneficial,” Spruill said of the meeting. “People got to ask questions that perhaps were hovering out there, so it lets us ask those questions in a format in which everyone can hear and get a good feel for.”

Board of Supervisors President and District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer echoed Spruill.

“I’m looking forward to the next meeting and to the progress on this project,” Trainer said.

BOARD OF ALDERMEN MEETING

Before the joint meeting, the Board of Aldermen held a special called meeting.

During the meeting, the board gave consent to move forward with two new phases of Country Club Estates construction. The project will bring 40 new lots to just under 16 acres of Estates.

The board approved a grant for the Starkville Police Department to receive new Tasers, Taser batteries and investigative equipment, costing the city $1,250.

Lastly, the board approved the hiring of Joshua Reed as a new maintenance worker in the Sanitation and Environmental Services department.

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