ome one, come all.
An investment totaling more than $56.7 million was announced by Governor Tate Reeves in February 2023 to gear the state up with shovel-ready sites. Through the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) and Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), grant funds are to be distributed across three categories: Ready Sites, Premier Sites and Select Sites.
Since its 2021 inception, the program’s success has increased the state’s site inventory, giving the needed boost to recruit fresh business, cultivate high-quality jobs and secure additional funding for sites from Governor Reeves and the Mississippi Legislature.
This proactivity is paying off, aiding in sealing the largest economic development deal in Mississippi’s history, as Steel Dynamics announced its $2.5 billion expansion into the Infinity Industrial Park located in Lowndes County.
“To better position our state for further economic growth, we need to invest in our state’s roads and increase the number of project-ready sites across Mississippi,” said Governor Reeves in the release. “These investments will go an incredibly long way toward giving Mississippi the competitive advantage it needs to land more economic development projects and deliver more high-quality, high-paying jobs for Mississippians.”
The Road to Shovel-Ready
In order to establish that competitive, electric utilities Cooperative Energy, Entergy, Mississippi Power and Tennessee Valley Authority, reached out to Strategic Development Group (SDG), a Greenville, South Carolina- based site selection firm. SDG Vice President Jeannette Goldsmith worked with the state, both in person and virtually, to evaluate Mississippi’s growing portfolio of Select Sites.
“There’s no such thing as a perfect site,” Goldsmith tells Site Selection. “Our primary objective was to look at where there might be deficiencies, whether that be water or sewage access, identify them and help Mississippi and these communities understand how to best address these deficiencies.”
Goldsmith began her work in Mississippi in 2021, providing feedback MDA Deputy Executive Director Laura Hipp dubbed “invaluable” to getting 20 significantly developed sites across the finish line. The evaluation led to $11.6 million in funding through Site Development Grants, RESTORE Act funding and ARC grants focused on development projects.
“Her recommendations regarding the scope of work needed to get those already competitive sites across the finish line and truly ready to meet the needs of their target industries was beneficial. But perhaps more importantly, MDA, our utility partners and our local partners benefited from her objective, third-party expertise regarding what site development projects should be prioritized at the larger, newer sites that are not as fully developed,” says Hipp.
With 12 new, larger additional sites in mind, the state’s utilities brought Goldsmith back a year later for further evaluation. Due diligence and site work including road infrastructure improvements, tree removal and water were among her findings. With these recommendations in mind, MDA wasted no time following up with an additional $39 million funding commitment to the Site Development Grant for 2023 projects.
“I think it provides a unique opportunity for Mississippi to really show off,” says Goldsmith. “They have really good diversity. They have the big megasites in their portfolio and smaller sites that are geared toward high tech and research-and-development-type projects.”
2023 Funding Focus
Compared to 2022, each category received a boost in funding, as $31.7 million was added.
Ready and Premier Sites gained more than $340,000, for a total of $1.98 million. Ready Sites require a minimum of 20 highly developable acres to be considered for up to $50,000 in funding. These sites must be work-ready within six months and capable of installing on-site utilities within 12 months. Requirements for Premier Sites entail a minimum of 100 acres and offer distinguishing site assets. Factors such as being in high-demand locations, large-scale development acreage or having significant utility infrastructure already in place can qualify sites for up to $250,000 in grant funding. Additionally, Premier Sites must have a labor force able to attract the intended market.
Funding awarded this round to Ready and Premier Sites focused on environmental due diligence, infrastructure assessments or overall site improvements to the following:
The most impressive funding influx can be seen for Select Sites, as last year’s $11.64 million transforms to more than $35.6 million, the most committed by MDA since the program’s 2021 inception. Additionally, the announcement included Select Sites Martintown North, RailHub South and Megasite at Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park being approved by Governor Reeves for $9.3 million in ARC funding.
Across the state, various ports received $9.8 million in funding for port site and infrastructure improvements.
The Northwest Mississippi Megasite is over 1,600 acres and is located in DeSoto County.
Photo courtesy of Mississippi Development Authority
As far as site selection criteria goes, speed to market remains at the top of most companies’ priority list. This can be a slippery slope as many states tend to drop the ball in availability of shovel-ready sites.
Whether businesses are looking to relocate to Mississippi or expand operations with confidence, state leadership is focused on helping achieve a company’s goal swiftly and with ease.
“By investing in these sites, we are taking the guesswork out of the site selection process. The due diligence has been completed, infrastructure installed, and the hardest part for the company is choosing where in Mississippi to locate because our sites are top-notch and will suit industries in all sectors, of all sizes,” says Hipp. “As soon as they choose a perfect location, they can quickly turn dirt and begin construction, significantly increasing their speed to market since the Mississippi team completed the initial leg work on the front end.”
Aside from location, talent becomes a major factor, as well. These sites are strategically developed within communities whose workforce caters to target industries such as advanced manufacturing and logistics and distribution. Goldsmith noted that local institutions and state universities, such as the University of Mississippi and University of Southern Mississippi, are another factor that will play a powerful role in recruiting new companies. Research capabilities held by these regions will provide opportunities for companies to grow and for communities to tell their workforce story. MDA remains optimistic in positioning the state for new economic growth through these sites.
“Growth begets growth,” says Hipp. “Necessary infrastructure must be in place to handle the growth companies bring with them, so by developing these sites now, we are certain we will see a great return on our investment as the funding invested in them eventually generates much more within their communities and surrounding areas.”
Persistence is paying off as the program heads into its third year. There are still lessons to be learned and more sites to bring up to ready-made status. Regardless, whatever a company’s needs may be, chances are Mississippi has the perfect site for operations to take root and thrive.
“With Governor Reeves at the helm and a pro-business Legislature, I think we can look forward to this program growing further in the coming years,” says Hipp.