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Being site ready essential to future economic development success

After the recent sale of the speculation building at Ceres Industrial Park to become Winfield United’s regional warehouse and distribution center, our community has reached an important point in the overall development and progress of Ceres. With the recent locations to the park of Unified Brands, Eco-Pack, Love’s Transportation Center and Winfield United, Ceres finds itself without unoccupied buildings, with only a few greenfield sites and with only one site that could compete for large scale projects. The future of Ceres and the economic impact of any future projects our community could win will be directly correlated to how big and how ready for development our greenfield sites are when the opportunity to compete is upon us.

The Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership has always maintained that, in order to win, our community needs to be ready to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the marketplace. For that reason, the Warren County Port Commission started in early 2019 a process of site qualification that will enable the three largest available sites at Ceres to be qualified by Entergy as “Economic Development Project Ready.”

To achieve this certification, the commission invested in needed due diligence (Phase I environmentals, wetland delineations, soil borings, archeological surveys) to pinpoint and resolve any issues that may exist with any of the sites. The work was done in the last four months and has now been finalized. The results are very encouraging and demonstrate that no significant issues exist with any of the sites which might hamper industrial development. All of the work in site preparation being done at Ceres is possible through grants provided to the Port Commission by the Mississippi Development Authority in the amount of $236,810. The grants required a dollar-for-dollar match and the Port Commission accepted the grants and authorized the match at its regular April 2019 meeting.

It is key for our community to not underestimate the importance of site readiness and site size when it comes to competing for industrial projects. Contrary to common assumptions, communities do not really compete in a process of site selection, but rather in a process of site elimination, in which the sites that have issues, delays, or any other challenges perceived as risky or costly get eliminated from the process immediately.

The best opportunity for success to attract a large project to Ceres is a 150-plus acre site located north of the speculation building and east of Tyson Foods and Unified Brands. Any other site in the park is limited to not more than 40 acres (in a regular shape). For this reason, the Port Commission sees it as critical to make this one large site as ready and as competitive for development as possible, so that it can compete with other sites in the State of Mississippi for larger projects with bigger investments and job creation numbers.

Now that we have completed the due diligence on the site, the next step is to design a road that will allow for easy access to the area. Currently, there is no adequate access to the site and the lack of road and the lack of plans and specifications to build such road is perceived by prospects as an added risk with the potential to delay and increase the cost of a project.

The completion of the design and plans and specifications for the access road will provide time and cost savings to any potential industrial user who evaluates the site. The MDA recognizes the importance of reducing risk when competing for projects and that is why they are paying half of the cost of the work through the aforementioned grant. The Port Commission recently authorized the work on the road design to begin, and the work is scheduled to be finalized no later than March of 2020.

As we moved forward with these important initiatives, we have made sure to use the expertise and knowledge provided to us by our state economic development partners including the MDA, Entergy and the Greater Jackson Alliance. All partners regularly provide support — financial or otherwise — for our efforts to attract jobs and investments to Vicksburg and Warren County.

We need to prepare and be ready if we want to continue to make Ceres successful and if we want to see it one day completely filled with companies. The work being done right now will help us accomplish that goal faster. Once all due diligence and design work are ready, we will be more effective at marketing the available sites to both small and large companies across the nation.

Any questions regarding the sites would be able to be answered through the due diligence that has been done and we will be able to demonstrate full readiness for industrial development to prospects. In other words, our community will be able to provide what prospects are looking for: a site where they can locate immediately with low perceived risk and a site where they can go from spending money to making money in the shortest period of time possible.

When this is accomplished, our community will win more projects, our residents and small businesses will see more jobs and more economic gains, and companies, in general, will further recognize Vicksburg and Warren County as a top site location destination in the Southeast.

In the last two and a half years, our community has proven that we can win projects and create jobs if we are ready and prepared. We will continue to be relentless in our pursuit of opportunities, and when we find them, through the site readiness work being done now, we will be able to seize them for the benefit of Vicksburg and Warren County.

 

Pablo Diaz, CEcD, is President & CEO of the Vicksburg Warren Economic Development Partnership.