Manufacturing

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Zooming in on the Crossroads Site - Lowndes County, Mississippi

30 Apr, 2007

By: Kevin M. Mayer

What if you could begin a site selection search from a great height, and zoom in at will, eventually narrowing your view to a single property? If you were searching for a large, development-ready industrial site, you might well zoom in on a site called Crossroads.

At the beginning of your search, you would notice regional trends, such as the migration of auto assembly operations to the southeastern United States. Zooming in a little closer, you would look for areas with all the necessary attributes — proximity to suppliers and customers, well-developed transportation infrastructure, available workforce, affordable utilities, and all the rest. And then you would consider properties within one area. Ultimately you would focus on the few properties, or perhaps the one property, that was ready for fast, problem-free development.

At the level of individual properties — the tightest “zoom level” — an important advantage is certification. Certification offers a degree of assurance that the typical barriers to development have been lowered or eliminated.

The Crossroads site, in Lowndes County, Mississippi, has been certified. In fact, it was certified as part of an unusually ambitious project instigated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The TVA, anticipating the trend toward building auto assembly plants in the southeast, tapped McCallum Sweeney Consulting (MSC) of Greenville, South Carolina to implement a certification program. For it to be meaningful, the program had to be rigorous.

In 2004, when the program began, 25 communities within the Tennessee valley’s 80,000 square miles applied for “megasite” certification. At first, only two qualified. Today, three years later, the list is still short. Just eight locations meet the TVA/MSC criteria for a megasite, a large industrial property suitable for a major auto assembly plant.These numbers, and the MSC criteria, suggest that achieving certification is no ordinary challenge.

When certification of the Crossroads site was announced in 2006, it became the second property in Lowndes County to achieve this distinction. (The first was the Golden Triangle Megasite, which was chosen for development by SeverCorr, a steel maker.)

“Having another certified, ready-for-development megasite gives the community a tremendous economic development advantage in recruiting new automotive manufacturing or related industries,” said TVA Senior Vice President of Economic Development John Bradley. “Columbus-Lowndes County is to be highly commended for both their community’s teamwork and diligence in meeting the in-depth requirements of this certification process for a second time.”

The Crossroads megasite is south of U.S. Highway 82, 11 miles west of Columbus. The site is bordered on the east by the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, on the south by Mims Road and on the north by Frontage Road. The Crossroads megasite is easily accessible from the cities of Columbus, West Point and Starkville and is located an equal distance from Interstate 55 and Interstate 20.

According to Brenda H. Lathan, director of research and business development for the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link in Columbus, Mississippi, the Crossroads site was a strong candidate for certification from the start. “The site,” noted Lathan, “along with several other tracts of land, had actually been marketed for years as a megasite by the State of Mississippi. It met all the minimum certification criteria, which included available acreage, its close proximity to transportation—rail, highway and water—and close proximity to water, sewer, gas, and telecommunication lines.”

Building on these essentials, the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link coordinated efforts to overcome any remaining obstacles, fulfill the formalities of the certification process, and join the short list of certified megasites. Lathan notes that “the Link secured the site through options and put a team together consisting of engineers, utility providers, the Mississippi and Alabama Departments of Transportation, the community college, rail service providers, and the Lowndes County Port Authority. Each member of the team was assigned a portion of the certification RFI to complete. Weekly meetings and conference calls were held to address any problems and develop plans of action.”

Work that had been accomplished for the Golden Triangle Megasite also helped improve the Crossroads site. Because of the improvement commitments made earlier, most obstacles had already been addressed. These included the upgrades to Airport Road, a four-lane connection to Highway 82, and contracts between the main-line railroad and the short-line railroad.

In addition, Lowndes County had the foresight during the certification of the Golden Triangle Megasite to approve the sale of bonds for economic development ventures. This provides a vehicle to purchase the property in a matter of days. Legal descriptions and surveys are in the options, and title work has been performed, making for expeditious ownership transfer.

Although the work instigated by the Golden Triangle Megasite was impressive, local authorities had additional chores specific to the Crossroads Megasite. Citing just a few of these chores suggests the resources and commitment required to achieve certification:

  • Engineering work and cost estimates for all infrastructure improvements. (For example, utilities have execution and funding plans in place. Cost estimates indicate that system expansions and line extensions could be achieved economically. Water and sewer infrastructure is provided by the Lowndes County Industrial Authority.)

  • Environmental studies. (For example, a wetlands delineation has been completed on the site. In addition, the site has had a Phase I study performed. A Phase II study was not required. Air permits were not required because Mississippi is in an attainment area.)

  • Additional studies. (For example, a cultural survey has been completed. In addition, a geotechnical study has been done on portions of the property and throughout the area.)

Accomplishing all these tasks was time-consuming, but that was the point. Because local authorities invested their time and effort in advance, the company that chooses the Crossroads site will save time and effort during development. All activities involved in launching a new plant, from the site selection process itself to construction, will be expedited.

The ability to expedite development is an important advantage, particularly for auto assemblers. “Today’s companies, especially in the automotive industry, are under enormous time and financial pressures to make site-selection decisions and start up new facilities at a record-breaking pace,” said MSC Senior Principal Ed McCallum.

By responding to the need for rapid development, the parties involved in certifying the Crossroads site not only enhance their chances of attracting business to Lowndes County, they also stand to create a virtuous cycle, enhancing the area’s considerable appeal. “The TVA megasite certification process is the most progressive movement in the field of economic development in this decade,” said Columbus Lowndes Development Link CEO Joe Max Higgins. “Because of the MSC and TVA seal of approval, our region will reap numerous economic benefits.”

Lowndes County already boasts these attributes:
  • A regional trade center. (Twenty-two of the top 100 retailers are located in the county.)

  • Home of Columbus Air Force Base.

  • An education nucleus. (The county contains Mississippi University for Women, East Mississippi Community College, and the Center for Manufacturing Technology Excellence.)

  • A regional healthcare center.

  • A regional transportation hub.

  • Certified as a Mississippi retirement community.

  • A cultural and recreational center. (The county has a cultural center for performing and visual arts.)

  • Home of nationally acclaimed sports tournaments. (The county enjoys close proximity to SEC sports competitions.)

All of these attributes bring us back to the “zoom” analogy at the start of this article. These attributes are most visible at an intermediate view. Further out, there is the regional view of the TVA, long committed to building prosperity in the southeast. Closer in, there is the detailed work of local authorities to make properties “development ready.”

Progress achieved at any one of these levels — the region, the county, the megasite — reinforces progress achieved at the other levels. In this case, the players are the Tennessee Valley Authority, McCallum Sweeney Consulting, and state and local authorities including the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link. These players have already demonstrated their effectiveness. They helped prepare the Golden Triangle Megasite, where SeverCorr broke ground for its new mini-mill in 2005; just one year after the site’s certification was announced. Today, several companies, including suppliers to auto assemblers, are expressing interest in the Crossroads site. It appears that the original ambition — attracting auto assemblers — will be realized in one form or another. The Crossroads site is suitable for assemblers, suppliers, and other industrial operations.

 

 

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