Allen: EDA working prospects

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; When Woody Allen became Natchez-Adams’ economic development chairman, he called a veteran economic developer at Entergy to get his advice on hiring a director for the EDA.

What he heard were two disheartening words: &uot;Good luck.&uot;

The developer, Will Mayo, explained that Natchez was considered a &uot;third tier&uot; industrial location.

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That, he explained, was because so many people were going after industrial prospects that no one at the state level knew which Natchez contact to route those prospects to any more.

Because of that, Mayo told Allen, &uot;The state has moved Natchez aside for the time being.&uot;

Now, one and a half years later, the Natchez-Adams County Economic Development Authority has one contact &045; Director Mike Ferdinand.

And the EDA is working on 29 active prospects in several industrial sectors and is back on Mississippi’s map, Allen told the Natchez Rotary Club Wednesday.

Allen didn’t deny the area has lost thousands of jobs due to the closing of International Paper, Johns Manville, Titan Tire and Ethyl Petroleum in recent years.

However, he noted that negotiations on an employee stock option plan to buy out the now-idled IP mill are ongoing and that &uot;the end of the month is probably the drop-dead date (for that agreement) &045; either it’s going to work or it isn’t.&uot;

Meanwhile, the EDA, he said, has a strategy for bringing businesses to the area that includes building new relationships with state project managers. Those are the eight key people whose job it is to help industrial prospects find locations within the state.

Upon visiting Natchez-Adams in recent months, some project managers have even remarked &uot;that Natchez is a beautiful town. I haven’t been here in 15 to 20 years,&uot; Allen said.

Ferdinand, Allen and other EDA officials have also developed relationships with Mississippi Development Authority executives and Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, Allen said.

It doesn’t hurt that Ferdinand already had a Rolodex full of contacts from working with the MDA for several years, he added.

The EDA is working to get site visits from prospects in several major industrial sectors, from manufacturing to technology to timber and forest products.

The area has the infrastructure, including the Natchez-Adams County Port, and the land to attract industries. And, according to Allen, it has gotten close to landing some prospects.

For example, the EDA hosted site visits for officials from manufacturing company Eurocopter.

Adams County was competing against 51 other counties, &uot;and we made it through four cuts until they were down to 10,&uot; Allen said. &uot;But Columbus gave them a $7 million total package, Š including $2 million in cash.&uot;

A pipe manufacturer was looking seriously at the area but left for Louisiana, where the company could get better railroad rates.

An oil refining company was looking at the EDA’s Belwood property but bailed when Ethyl Petroleum shut its doors, he added.

But there are bright spots on the horizon, Allen said. The EDA is working with Alcorn State University on three technological prospects. Alcorn President Dr. Clinton Bristow &uot;has a vision to develop a technological park&uot; to hold them, he said.

In addition, the EDA is working on four projects related to railroad service and the port &045; industries ranging from 15 to more than 400 jobs and from $4 million to $40 million in capital investment apiece.

The railroad between Natchez and Brookhaven &uot;will remain open even if it’s run by MDOT,&uot; Allen said, referring to the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Also during his presentation, Allen said the EDA invites residents to submit the names of potential industrial prospects. But he added that, from there, &uot;the EDA needs to be the center point for those contacts.&uot;