One final try to attract Kia

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 13, 2006

Kia Motors Corp. started a regional dogfight when it announced its intention to build a major automobile manufacturing plant in the southeast.

The company plans to announce where they’ll build the plant as soon as Tuesday, and in the final round, Mississippi proved it was ready to throw a haymaker in the name of economic development .

Meridian, Miss., wanted the plant, hoping to bring Kia’s proposed 2,500 jobs to one of the nation’s poorest regions, which includes east Mississippi and west Alabama.

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But an offer from LaGrange, Ga., caught Kia executives’ interest, due to the city’s proximity to Interstate 85, and the numerous industrial parks and automotive suppliers in the immediate area.

Then the state of Mississippi delivered a

counterpunch of historic proportions Thursday, offering Kia an incentives package worth $1 billion, according to economic development officials in Columbus, Miss. The mammoth incentive package tested the composure of Jay Shows, chairman of Demopolis’ Industrial Development Board, who laughed, “boisterously,” he added, when he heard of it.

The offer includes around a quarter-million dollars in Gulf Opportunity Zone grants, which were awarded to the state in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

If the $1 billion offer is accepted, Mississippi would pay Kia around $400,000 per job. It is the biggest incentive package in United States history, according to press reports.

“Alabama took a lot of heat and bad press when they landed Mercedes-Benz (near Tuscaloosa), and the cost per job was barely $100,000 per job,” Shows said, referencing the state’s successful, $253 million incentive package. “At the time, I thought that was too much, so how in the world is Mississippi going to answer this?”

The Columbus package includes $279 million in state tax breaks, $59 million in payroll tax rebates and $240 million in federal incentives made available by the GOZA legislation.

It’s important to make a good offer,

Shows said, because there are many different ways a major manufacturing plant can uplift a community. But it’s not wise to mortgage the state’s future just to woo a corporation.

“I wish them well,” he added.

Far from worrying about pundits’ pot-shots regarding the billion-dollar offer, Joe Max Higgins, Shows’ counterpart in Columbus, said the state might as well leave it all out on the battlefield.

“There’s no sense in taking powder home, boys,” he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Let’s shoot it.”

The giant offer from Columbus makes a Meridian location unlikely. But local leaders are still hoping Kia will see the value of a location near the border.

“We feel it’ll be a blessing for this area, not only with the jobs at Kia, but with spinoff jobs,” Livingston Mayor Tom Tartt,

whose constituents live just 17 miles from the proposed site, said. “It could have a dramatic impact on this part of the state.”

Shows said east Mississippi simply lacks the ready, available workforce to staff a 2,500-job factory. That, he said, is why Meridian seemed so perfect. Not only could the car-maker draw from its local population, but with Sumter, Greene and Marengo counties just a few minutes away, the workforce was much larger than just what the Magnolia State could offer.