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Meridian-On the Move!

Note: This article is about a year old.  It was going to start my weblog, which I’ve just started today.  However, it is still an exciting story, so I’ll use it anyway. 


Spring, 2007 – I had the pleasure of taking a Red Carpet Tour of East Mississippi Business Development Corporation’s industrial park and some of its industrial facilities.  We were first apprised of all the new businesses with which they were working that were in various stages of locating in their area, one of which was a contact made by Wade Jones during a visit to an art museum in Boston over a year ago.  They were both admiring the same painting and just got to talking, exchanged cards, and months later, when this person’s company needed to expand he recalled this meeting, found Wade’s card, and now they are here. 


Wade and Skip Scaggs loaded us into Skip’s Suburban and we took off to the fringes of Meridian in Lauderdale County where there were numerous metal and concrete buildings spaced along the road running through one of their three industrial parks.  In fact, this particular park is practically full.  Now usually when I go sightseeing, it’s not to look at industrial buildings, but they were very proud of what they were showing us, so I got excited about it, too.  All those cars parked around those buildings represented a lot of people inside working, and getting paid. 


They then took us a little farther to the top of a hill (a beautiful scenic area) where we overlooked the 260 acre area where numerous tractors and caterpillars were scurrying all around, almost finished with the grading for the new Loblolly facility, a $140 million facility that will turn small Southern Pine trees, which are too small to use to make lumber, into giant compressed wooden beams, a new concept in building materials.  Someone asked “Like plywood?”  Well, no, not exactly.  Once this process is perfected, with the help of scientists at Mississippi State University, these saplings that are so abundant in the area, will become giant beams.  And they will use all of the tree except the bark.  This is a fascinating process of smashing the tree, splintering it, drying it, and gluing it into a very dense, very thick, and large piece of wood, larger than any one piece of wood that can be cut from a tree, and stronger than a steel beam.  Hmm, wonder where they might have a use for wood like that in Mississippi?


We saw several other sites that had been graded ready for building new facilities.



We then went to see the airport.  In the few minutes we were sitting in the middle of the field overlooking the tarmac, small aircraft were coming and going regularly, a busy airport.  By the way, the Meridian airport has the longest runway in the state of Mississippi, so anything can land or take off there.  They recently found out that the taxiway is located much farther from the tower than is required by the FCC, so they are going to lay another taxiway closer in, thus abandoning the current one.  It just so happens that the current one is located right beside some prime vacant land which can then be sold to a large industrial facility that has a need for access to the longest runway in Mississippi right out their back door.  Instead of a train track spur, they’d have a runway spur.  Wonder who will end up with that prime site?


We then met with officials and had a private preview tour of the almost-ready-to-go 110,000 square foot, with 50 foot eave heights, $9 million addition to the Tower Auto facility.  It started out last year in the old DelcoRemy building that had been vacant for years and was in such a state of disrepair that they could hardly show it for all the water inside from the leaks in the roof.  However, these folks from Michigan that stamp sheets of steel into body parts (for automobiles—it does sound creepy to hear them talk about body parts), saw the possibilities, and it now houses red “cells” in which welders’ sparks are flying, along with stacks of body parts ready for shipment to Nissan in Smyrna and in Canton and to other places. 


The new part of the building is clean as a whistle at this time and has three giant cranes ready to pluck coils of steel out of trucks to go into the giant presses they are installing.  What was the difficult part of this?  The very sharp engineer-project manager here from Michigan who designed the facility and is overseeing its completion, said “It never stops raining here.”  We were taken aback about this.  We assured him he was in the sunny South.  He did admit that he arrives at work when it is still dark and leaves when it is dark, also.  We encouraged him to go outside more during the day and experience the sun.


We were curious about the workforce.  They are hiring local people.  They will be sending a lot of students who score high on certain tests to receive specialized training.  Wade Jones told them about a training facility that Meridian Community College and the WIRED grant was equipping with machines in the old Wal-Mart facility.  The plant manager offered to help find equipment for them from some of their old facilities up North.  It was very exciting to hear them working out these details together—our economic developers and the plant’s top brass.


By the way, the top three gentlemen at Tower were from north of the Mason-Dixon line.  We could tell, not only from their accents, but also from the tags on the cars in the parking lot.  Yes, there were a lot of cars from Mississippi and some from Alabama, but we also saw tags from New York, Michigan, Ontario, New Jersey, Tennessee, and several other states. 


We were pretty exhausted after this excitement, but we took time to visit Weidman’s, which I had not visited since before it closed for renovation in 2001.  It is a fine historic restaurant with fabulous food, and we were lucky enough to have a table upstairs overlooking Downtown Meridian and the newly refurbished MSU Riley Center, where we were later treated to a performance by Mel Torme’s son who sang his father’s songs quite well, danced and told family stories.  I say we were treated to a performance and that is true, but it was a treat just to be inside that beautiful old classic cozy (even though it seats 1,000) theater.   I’ve heard everyone say that it is absolutely gorgeous, and those people are not exaggerating one little bit.   They have a very ambitious schedule of singers of all genres and plays for all ages.  There is no one who can look at the schedule and not see something that doesn’t appeal to them.  I saw about ten things I’d like to see, so I will be going back soon.  After all, it’s only about an hour and a half from Jackson.


After a restful night in a local hotel, which did have cable TV, which allowed me to check on the Australian Open, I was back in Jackson by 10:30 the next morning with a new perspective on Meridian and the wonderful things they have accomplished there and all that they continue to do.


For more information about Meridian, go to www.embdc.org or call the East MS Business Development Corporation at 601-693-1306.  

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