County seeks $3.9M to land company at Ceres

Published 10:38 am Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An incentive package agreed upon Monday by the Warren County Board of Supervisors and the Warren County Port Commission could entice the first new major employer to the Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex in 2 ½ years and the biggest in terms of job creation at the 1,300-acre Flowers business park in more than a decade.

A capital improvement loan from the Mississippi Development Authority worth up to $2 million will finance the purchase of the former CalsonicKansei auto parts supply plant to become the first U.S. holding for a company that will create 366 jobs over five years, said Wayne Mansfield, executive director for the port authority, which also oversees Ceres. The county and port boards also OK’d applying for up to $1.9 million in federal block grants to speed up infrastructure improvements near the 140,000 square-foot building, located on the north end of Ceres, next to the Mississippi Department of Transportation’s regional headquarters.

Mansfield declined to name the company, citing sensitive negotiations between the state and company officials — but indicated it’s part of a deal to land the company that’s largely done. The effort’s broader details were shared with the county and port boards for the purposes of applying for the financial help in buying the building and improving the property thereafter.

“It is my understanding there will be an announcement by the governor’s office on May 12,” Mansfield said.

In response to a request to Gov. Phil Bryant’s office via email for confirmation of the announcement date, spokeswoman Nicole Webb said anything related to potential economic development announcements could be neither confirmed nor denied.

The old CalsonicKansei plant has sat idle since it closed in February 2007. The Shelbyville, Tenn.-based auto parts supplier still owns the building, according to property tax records.

A public comment period on the loan agreement begins at 10 a.m. May 19 with an item devoted to it on supervisors’ regular meeting agenda, which kicks off four public notices to be issued — all in accordance with requirements of the CAP loan program.

County supervisors voted 5-0 in favor of both the loan and grant applications. The CDBG would pay for improvements such as access roads, drainage, water improvements, rail spurs, natural gas improvements, dredging and widening of public waterways and other similar public infrastructure improvements, according to the resolution that passed both boards. A grant administrator, engineer and consultant will also be hired, as per the rules.

In the arrangement, the so-called CAP loan would be the county’s match for the block grant, said Michelle Moore, of Gouras Urban Planning Consultants, at Monday’s port board meeting. The firm has won several competitive bids for administrative services for block grants in Vicksburg and Warren County in the past 20 years.

The county would have to forfeit sales tax allocations or homestead exemption reimbursements from the state if the loan isn’t repaid. Terms such as time frame for repayments weren’t clear Monday.

Warren County would appear to be in a strong enough financial position to secure the loan. In June, Moody’s Investors Service rated the county Aa2, based on the status of general obligation bond debt. The rating is the service’s second-highest rating category.

Mansfield said the CEO of the prospective new tenant at Ceres has visited “several times” since talks began last September — a quick time frame from start to near-completion compared to past efforts to recruit businesses to Warren County. The discussions have included details about the local labor force and public school system, Mansfield said.

“I’ve talked with the WIN Job Center and about the schools,” he said. “It would be their first location in the U.S., but they’ve been to Vicksburg several times since September.”

The most recent industrial tenant to move into space at Ceres was Laclede Chain, which in 2011 purchased the former Yorozo Automotive Mississippi plant. It employs about 50 people.

Yorozu and CalsonicKansei, both Nissan suppliers, were part of the auto parts supply plant boom that saw plants built across the Southeast. Each shut their doors in the run-up to the financial market collapse —Yorozu announced their closure Oct. 2, 2008, the day before the federal bailout of nation’s largest banks was signed into law — and cited falling demand for vehicles for which each manufactured parts. They had a combined workforce of about 550 shortly after each opened in 2003.