Steel Magnolia (cover)
1,400 Acres for a 'Mini' Mill
'Cognitive Dissonance' Scuttles Project
Call Center Central
ven as Interstates and other infrastructure are cleared and repaired in Mississippi's coastal communities in the wake of the late summer hurricanes, new infrastructure is now operational in the northern part of the state. Site selectors, consultants and developers are taking a closer look at northeast Mississippi now that major sites, or mega-sites, are plant-ready. These include the Wellspring Project near Tupelo and the Golden Triangle Industrial Park in Columbus where SeverCorr is building an US$700-million "mini-mill" for the production of steel for automotive manufacturers.
Just as importantly, U.S. route 78, from the Memphis metro to the Alabama state line, is morphing into I-22, which eventually will reach Birmingham, Ala., in 2012 if not sooner. Part of the new Interstate was opened on the Alabama side in November, linking the Mississippi border with Jasper, Ala. Mississippi's portion has resembled an Interstate for months, which is boosting the region's appeal as an alternative to the busy Memphis area as a location for logistics operations. But it first must convince observers that the infrastructure is there.
"Perception is reality," says former Tupelo Mayor Clyde Whitaker, who now is developing sites in and around Tupelo for retail and lodging tenants, especially along the future I-22 corridor. "The perception of [your area] as being a class A area or a class B area may be the key to commercial or industrial development."
But locations must first make it onto consultants' and real estate managers' short list for successful development to have a chance. Those areas without Interstate access rarely make the cut.
"As much as today's shorter-cycle site selection processes have affected communities like Tupelo today, those communities that are not on an Interstate 10 years from now will be affected doubly or more," says Tim Weston, economic development specialist, Mississippi region, at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Computer models increasingly generate short lists that exclude locations lacking certain assets, and Interstates are a prime example. "In the past," says Weston, "Tupelo's Community Development Foundation [the lead economic development agency] and the adjacent communities have been successful because they have exposed people to the quality of the roadways while they have been here."
Transportation infrastructure — travel time, quality and reliability of roads — was a key part of TVA's mega-site certification because Interstates offer predictability that local roads cannot. U.S. routes 45 and 82, linking Tupelo with Columbus and Starkville, Miss., also had to be shown to offer Interstate-like access to the two mega-sites or they would risk not making the short list. Consultants who visit the region — "the ones we see, whose feet we get on the ground," says Weston — are generally convinced of that. "As we go forward, there will be less opportunity to get their feet on the ground before we're eliminated, based on GIS and other tools used to evaluate sites. As automated as this process is becoming, and with the shorter timelines, communities will be eliminated more so than they were in the past." The net effect, adds Whitaker, is that a " 'B' site becomes a 'C' site, and they're not looking for 'C' sites. They're looking for 'A' sites, and the industries we want are looking for 'A' sites."
The Interstate upgrades throughout northeast Mississippi take on even more importance as they facilitate connectivity with the so-called NAFTA Highway, which is I-69 from the Canadian to the Mexican borders. The Federal Highway Administration is beginning work on an outer loop around Memphis, which will be known as I-269, connecting with the future I-22 in northwest Mississippi. That infrastructure, coupled with the mega-sites, could boost significantly northern Mississippi's ability to service the automotive industry among others.
©2006 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. SiteNet data is from many sources and not warranted to be accurate or current.