State has no choice but to bid for jobs

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 10, 2010

Given that the line between private enterprise and government function has been blurred for about 20 years, quick legislative approval of a package of incentives for a new pipeline plant in Tunica County was the right thing for Mississippi lawmakers to do on the first day of their 2010 session. Don’t, however, expect working families, struggling to stay solvent paycheck-to-paycheck, to pick up on the nuances. People who have heard nothing but “the state is past broke” for more than a year are not going to understand rapid, near-unanimous approval of a $35 million package to lure a German company.

Another contrast is that our staunch “small-government” Republican governor, Haley Barbour, is being credited as the driving force behind the deal.

“I’ve got to hand it to the governor. I think he wanted to put a project of significance in the Delta, and he did,” said Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, whose district stretches through western Tunica County.

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This package was conservative and proportional compared to others OK’d by lawmakers without debate or discussion during the past 10 years. Nissan and Honda projects, Severstal and others have totaled in the hundreds of millions.

It was also not a cash outlay. Under the deal, the state will provide $15 million in bonds to help Wilh. Schulz GMBH build the plant about 20 miles south of Memphis to use a proprietary process to make stainless steel pipes for the oil and gas industry. The package, passed unanimously in the Senate and with only two dissenting votes in the House, also adds the state as a co-signer on a $20 million equipment loan.

Barring unexpected complications, the $300 million facility will create 500 jobs within five years at an average wage of $32,000 a year.

Mississippi might not have started the trend toward having public treasuries more and more involved with private enterprises, but the choices are clear: Get in the game for keeps or watch jobs go elsewhere. The latter is not acceptable.