Illustration by Ben Hillyer
Illustration by Ben Hillyer

Archived Story

Natchez Inc. celebrates third anniversary

Published 12:04am Sunday, June 16, 2013

Three years after Adams County’s business and public sector partnered in a renewed effort to bring industry back to the area, the private sector portion of Natchez Inc. apparently believes in the cause enough that more money has been pledged to the group than it needs.

Chairman Benny Jeansonne said the approximately 85 members of Natchez Now — the private sector funding group for Natchez Inc. — have pledged $175,000 in annual support. The group is currently obligated to give $115,000 a year.

Natchez Inc. reached its third anniversary June 1. The initial giving commitments Natchez Now asked its members was for three years, and Jeansonne said when the group approached its membership for a second round of pledges, the members stepped up.

“The last three years have been a tremendous boost to our surrounding area, not only in the additional jobs but in the general business attitude,” he said. “Everyone is more cooperative and willing to cooperate, moreso than they have been in the past.

“Once we started asking members in the last six months to sign up for the three-year pledge, they have just been coming in — it has been fairly easy just asking. We even have people who have paid before even signing the pledge, which is nice.”

Natchez Inc. Chair Sue Stedman said seeing such a level of interest from the community is exciting for the future.

“There is still a huge groundswell of support from the community,” she said.

What is Natchez Inc?

Natchez Inc. is the public-private development partnership tasked with economic development recruiting for Adams County. In 2010, it replaced the public agency, the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority.

The partnership is funded jointly by the City of Natchez, which gives $100,000 annually to the organization, and Adams County’s government, which contributes $165,000 a year. A third group composed of local business leaders, Natchez Now, contributes $115,000 a year. The three groups all appoint members to the Natchez Inc. executive board, and the organization has three employees, Executive Director Chandler Russ, Project Manager Chris Hinton and Communications Manager Aimee Guido.

In the first two years, the group was able to recruit commitments from several companies — Elevance, KiOR, Virdia, Magnolia Frac Sand and Fores Frac Sand and Enersteel — that will eventually result in the creation of 725 direct or indirect jobs.

Year three

The economic development group’s third year, while it didn’t have the big announcements of commitments that would lead to the creation of hundreds of jobs, seemed a logical progression to the two prior years and pushed the total job creation count to approximately 1,000 jobs.

While some companies — KiOR and Elevance — continued the preparatory work for their previously announced Natchez projects, two of those that were on the ground announced expansions.

Genesis Energy announced plans in May that would more than double its initial capacity to move oil products through the Natchez-Adams County port by rail, an expansion that would create 20 new jobs.

Genesis’ expansion announcement came just nine months after the company announced its plans to operate in the port. The initial work created approximately 20 jobs, but was notable in part because it guaranteed a level of rail traffic — and thus an incentive to the railroad’s owners to keep the Natchez Railway open — that hadn’t been seen in a number of years.

The same month Genesis announced its expansion, Enersteel — the steel plate fabrication facility that was one of Natchez Inc.’s first recruits — announced it would be expanding its operations and adding 20 new jobs.

“I would certainly have to point to the expansion of Enersteel and Genesis as being two of the most important things that happened in the last year,” Stedman said.

“We’re not just interested in new recruitment. The ability for those companies that are located here to be able to expand, to find the infrastructure they need, is key for us. If they want to grow, we want them to grow here.”

But the third year also saw one long-time factory in the port area receive what appeared to be a death blow only to rise from the ashes under new ownership with plans for the company to add more employees than originally lost their jobs.

Only a week before it closed its door, Mississippi River Pulp announced it would shut down its pulp fiber recycling mill Oct. 31, a closure that affected 79 hourly and salaried employees. But by late January, a new company — von Drehle — had purchased the facility, and announced plans to hire approximately 60 people.

But the company has also announced plans to install two paper manufacturing machines in the facility, plans that will create 100 jobs when they come to fruition.

“We were wringing our hands the day MRP said we are out of here, and we were so pleased and excited that there were companies the quality of von Drehle that said ‘We like this area,’ and that we ultimately were able to do with them what we were,” Stedman said.

What’s next?

In the coming year — and years — Adams County’s recent purchase of the 476-acre former International Paper property will play an increased role in future recruitment efforts.

“There is a huge amount of infrastructure on that property that will be there to serve the industries in our port area,” Stedman said. “That will not only be able to serve the clients we have on hand, but others in the future as well.”

In addition to having sewer and industrial water treatment facilities on the IP property that can be used to show potential recruits that the port area can support their infrastructure needs, Stedman said prior to the purchase the amount of land available for expansion in the county industrial park had shrunk to less than five acres.

“We don’t want to tie the hands of companies already there, to create a bottleneck for them if they want to expand,” she said. “We want to have property to move them onto.”

Discussions that will need to be had in the future also include further ensuring railroad stability and utility availability, Stedman said.

“We are going to have to take a hard look at what we have got now with the IP site and how we can use it in such a way that it will continue to grow and develop as a great piece of infrastructure.

“We compete on a daily basis with other economic development agencies that keep hundreds of acres pad ready all the time. I would like to see us be able to move into a position that we can say ‘Yes, we have a site, it is ready to go, it has got rail, it has barge, gas, water and electricity.”

Those who want more information about Natchez Now can contact the group at natcheznow@gmail.com.

Jeansonne said the members will elect directors for the next three years at its next quarterly meeting in September.