By STEVEN NALLEY
On Wednesday, Gov. Haley Barbour announced he will ask legislators to approve a $75 million incentive package to bring solar cell manufacturer Calisolar to Columbus in a special session Friday.
Calisolar would come to Columbus with a private capital investment of at least $600 million and bring 951 direct, full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $45,000 plus benefits, according to Barbour’s press release. Calisolar uses silicon to make cells for solar panels. Silicon, the release said, would be manufactured in Columbus and made available for electronics, automotive, energy and consumer industries.
District 37 Rep. Gary Chism said the Calisolar plant would produce 16,000 metric tons of solar silicon annually and bring in raw material by rail. He said three main factors made Mississippi attractive to Calisolar.
First, Chism said East Mississippi Community College provides training which prepares potential local employees to work with Calisolar’s technology. Mississippi State University also opens research opportunities to Calisolar, he said.
Second, Chism said Mississippi is a right-to-work state, so Calisolar employees would not have to join a union like they would in Ohio, another state competing for Calisolar’s new plant.
Third, he said Ohio did not facilitate Calisolar’s bid for a $275 million federal loan guarantee as well as Mississippi has.
In a July 30 report from the Mansfield News Journal in Mansfield, Ohio, John Kasich, governor of Ohio, said Calisolar had canceled plans to open a plant in Mansfield in favor of Mississippi. In the report, retired Auto Workers Union shop chairman Ron Willis said Calisolar once had plans to move their headquarters to Ohio. Chism said he has not heard of similar plans for the Mississippi plant, and as far as he is aware Calisolar will remain headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif.
Chism said Calisolar Board Chairman John D. Correnti played a key role in bringing the Calisolar-Columbus deal this far. Previously, Correnti was CEO of the Columbus steel mill SeverCorr, which became Severstal after a Russian company took over and bought out the shares of its senior management, including Correnti.
“Correnti has got his fingers in several things,” Chism said, “and Correnti is someone who’s got a proven track record of being an excellent CEO, just like at SeverCorr when he originally had it.”
Chism said both Mississippi houses are likely to pass the incentive package without much contention.
“There may be some legislators that are jealous of all that’s going on in the Golden Triangle,” Chism said, “but in the final analysis, this is going to sail through the House and the Senate. This is not going to be a controversial issue. We all support each other’s economic initiatives.”
Barbour will also ask the legislature to approve a $100 million package for HCL CleanTech, which converts biomass into sugars for use as industrial bioproducts. According to the governor’s press release, CleanTech plans to establish headquarters in Olive Branch; three large commercial plants in Booneville, Hattiesburg and Natchez; and a smaller commercial facility and research center in Grenada.
The result, the release says, will be 800 more jobs in Mississippi, paying an average of $67,000 plus benefits. Barbour said the opportunities Calisolar and CleanTech offer Mississippi make the legislature’s choice clear.
“I hope the special session will be short and productive as we continue the business of creating new, higher-paying jobs for Mississippians,” Barbour said. “Calisolar and HCL CleanTech are examples of how Mississippi has become a top site for high-tech, high-skilled manufacturing.”