Fast Site Preparation Vital to Development of Mississippi Tract

Wed March 01, 2006 - Southeast Edition

COLUMBUS, MS (AP) Lowndes County supervisors agreed Feb. 15 to the first steps toward issuing $23 million in bonds to develop the Crossroads, a 1,958-acre megasite west of Golden Triangle Regional Airport.

The bond issue would be ready March 17 after a 30-day public comment period.

“This is nothing more than a step to be ready to go in the blocks should someone say yes,” Joe Higgins, CEO of the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link, told supervisors. “This starts the process rolling. If someone comes, we’re ready to go. This eliminates a step down the road.”

The county will have two years to issue the bonds.

While Kia Motors has been widely discussed as a possible tenant for the site, Higgins cautioned against speculation, noting the property, which could be certified soon as automotive-ready under the Tennessee Valley Authority’s megasite program, is being pushed to several companies.

“Don’t read anything into this,” Higgins told the supervisors. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about a particular prospect but the fact is, a lot of companies are out there.

“It used to be site location was a 12-month process and then it got down to six months, and now it can be as short as four months. We need to be ready to go for anyone.”

The bond proceeds would purchase the property and fund basic infrastructure and site preparation. The bonds could be issued quickly, expediting work on the property, Higgins said.

As part of the megasite certification process, Link officials hope to have by the end of this week a timeline showing prospective companies how soon Lowndes County could have a pad ready on the site for construction.

That timeline could be particularly important to companies wanting to benefit from the Gulf Opportunity Zone incentives approved by Congress in December to spur development in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Lowndes County is in the designated area, but new buildings must be completed by the end of 2008.

Kia Motors is considering sites for a new $1.2-billion plant that would employ as many as 2,500 people. Mississippi is among the states being considered. Kia is owned by Hyundai.