hen Steel Dynamics announced a record-setting $2.5 billion capital investment project in Columbus, Mississippi, the news did more than make headlines in local newspapers. In the broader landscape of North American metals manufacturing and economic development, it was the shot heard around the world.
Never before had the Magnolia State been the recipient of such large-scale corporate investment, but there’s at least one person who saw it coming: Laura Hipp, deputy executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority.
As the state’s economic development leader, Hipp oversees the infrastructure, system and policies that govern industrial investment throughout Mississippi. She has seen Mississippi building toward this record-setting day for a long time. In the following interview, she discusses that deal and what made it happen.
2022 was a record-setting year in economic development for Mississippi. How did your team at MDA accomplish that?
LAURA HIPP: We’re fortunate to have a team of project managers who want to see Mississippi grow, and they work hard to create jobs all across this state. And Mississippi has a quality business environment the MDA team sells to prospects — we have low taxes, an affordable cost of living and workforce that is flexible and can be trained for any skill.
The Steel Dynamics win marked the largest investment project in state history. How did Mississippi pull that off?
HIPP: The expansion of Steel Dynamics with Aluminum Dynamics is a testament to the skilled workforce they have in the Golden Triangle region of Mississippi. When companies see people who are passionate about making quality products and who are skilled for the job, growing your business there is an easy decision.
What is 2023 shaping up to look like for your state in terms of jobs, capital investment and total projects?
HIPP: It’s early in the year for us, but we have a lot of exciting projects on the horizon we hope to announce in the near future. In the first quarter of the year, we have generated nearly $420 million in new investments and more than 610 jobs in our communities. So, while we are off to a great start, we are confident the remainder of the year will bring even more new jobs and investments to communities across the state.
Where is your pipeline now compared to what it looked like just a few years ago?
HIPP: Our pipeline of projects is comparable to previous years. The capital investments are larger with jobs that require a much higher skill level and offer competitive wages. Governor Tate Reeves’ priority is to raise the per capita income for Mississippians, and that’s a major factor we take into consideration when choosing which projects will best benefit Mississippians.
How important to sustained success is state fiscal policy and state fiscal management?
HIPP: We’re by and large a fiscally conservative state, and we operate with a smaller state budget than many of our competitors. So, our leaders are more cautious when they look at spending and taxation. Governor Reeves champions the taxpayers and is committed to ensuring tax dollars are put to the absolute best use. Prior to serving as lieutenant governor and now governor, he was the state treasurer, so we are certainly in good hands when it comes to the well-being of our state’s fiscal policy and fiscal management.
Do you expect any major changes to state tax law this year?
HIPP: I think our leaders will continue to discuss how Mississippi can eliminate its income tax. That’s important to Governor Reeves, and he’ll no doubt continue to lead on this issue. Last year, the Legislature passed a major reduction to the income tax. Eventually that will get us to an even 4% tax rate on all earnings over $10,000. The Governor is a staunch advocate of eliminating it completely, however, and I am sure he will continue fighting to do just that.
“Over the past three years under Governor Reeves, we focused on getting sites ready. We know projects are moving fast, which is why we advocated for and received an unprecedented $80 million in site development funds.”
— Laura Hipp, Deputy Executive Director, Mississippi Development Authority
What is the most important economic development legislation that is pending this year?
HIPP: Over the past three years under Governor Reeves, we focused on getting sites ready. We know projects are moving fast, which is why we advocated for and received an unprecedented $80 million in site development funds. Those dollars fund improvements on larger mega-sites and small industrial parks across Mississippi so companies — after choosing the best site for their operations — can quickly begin construction and get their products to market faster.
If you were to create a new tagline to sell Mississippi to new corporate investors, what would it be?
HIPP: Strategic location. Ready sites. Ready workforce. What are you waiting for?