Long-awaited economic development projects still in works

Published 12:16 am Tuesday, December 26, 2017


VIDALIA — If progress continues, early 2018 should bring an announcement on long-awaited Project Blue, leaders say.

Project Blue is an industrial development project with plans to utilize the former Fruit of the Loom warehouse and distribution center in Vidalia. Project Blue, a manufacturing project, is expected to employ a minimum of 300 people with an annual payroll of $9.2 million.

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Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said the United States Department of Agriculture has approved funding, which could close by the end of January. Craft said USDA’s commitment is based on the project making a loan with a lender.

The project was originally anticipated to be announced in 2017. However, Craft said the delay is due to the company having to seek federal funding due to the amount of money involved.

“Once they cleared state funding, because of the dollar amount, they had to pitch it to the feds,” Craft said. “They had to go through all of the process again — five to six months of negotiation and due diligence.

“It takes 30 to 60 days to get a loan for a house. A business loan like this is very comprehensive. It does not happen overnight.”

Craft said the delay is just a bump in the road.

“The future is bright,” Craft said. “Good things require a lot of hard work.”

Natchez Inc. Executive Director Chandler Russ said an announcement on Project Blue coming in early 2018 is a good bet.

“We are in good shape,” he said. “From a local level, from our side and the town’s side, we have done everything we can do.

“All indications are everything is in good shape from a lending stand point. Everyone is working toward closing.”

For future development at Vidalia’s industrial park, Craft said the town would have to consider supplying more power to the area.

Craft said in 2018, the board needed to consider adding another transformer, which could be as much as $1.8 million, or building a new substation for $4 to $6 million.

“If you can’t provide the power, they are not going to consider you,” Craft said. “There would be a lot of funding sources out there to help us do that. We need to be very, very conscious going forward on what industries are looking for.

“I don’t think we will have any problems growing our town if we do our due diligence and think about what people want to bring jobs here.”

In Adams County, three projects have been announced, two of which could see some progress in the upcoming year — Netco and Delta Energy.

Netco is a manufacturer planning to lease 12 acres of former International Paper property, providing at least 20 full time jobs.

“They are beginning to clear out the site and are doing prep work,” Russ said. “Everything is moving along with that project. It should be less than six months.”

Delta Energy is a company leasing a portion of former IP property that has developed a patented process to recover carbon black and marketable liquid chemicals from used tires. The company is expected to bring more than 90 jobs to the community.

“They have got another eight to 10 months of construction,” Russ said. “They will probably begin production in the last quarter of 2018.”

Velocys is estimated to bring 140 jobs to the area. Velocys is a biochemical company that utilized wood products that cannot be used for lumber and turns them into renewable diesel and jet fuel.

Velocys would be located at the Belwood industrial site at the Natchez-Adams County Port and utilize the railroad. The plant is expected to be constructed along with the Belwood levee for which the county has yet to secure a third and final phase of construction.

The second phase of construction is expected to take the levee to the river, and the third phase will go along the river and complete the ring around the 110-acre site.

Supervisors have suggested that even if they cannot identify a grant-based funding source, the county might have the potential to complete the levee internally.

The railroad line moving forward in 2018 is also important, Russ said. Russ said progress is being made on the $10.7 million U.S. Department of Transportation’s TIGER Discretionary Grant program for rail improvements.

“All indications are Natchez Railway is moving forward with the project,” Russ said. “I believe you will see some of that under construction in 2018, as well.”

In addition to Project Blue, Russ said he is hopeful 2018 will bring another big announcement to the area.

“We do have a real active portfolio right now,” Russ said. “We have huge projects that are kicking tires right now that would be game changers for our areas if we are successful.

“We feel good about our potential with the volume of clients.”