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VOL. 129 | NO. 161 | Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Marshall County in Running for Cummins Jobs

By Amos Maki

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Add the burgeoning industrial area in Marshall County, Miss., to the list of communities competing for a significant chunk of the Cummins Inc. jobs that are currently in Memphis.

Officials in Marshall County are competing with DeSoto County and Memphis to lure or retain hundreds of Cummins Inc. jobs from Memphis to the Byhalia area, according to people familiar with the effort.

When Marshall County Industrial Development Authority project manager Justin Hall was asked if he could describe the ongoing recruitment effort, he said, “Not at the moment but we’ll keep you posted if we can.”

Cummins officials said that at this time the diesel engine manufacturer was only considering an expansion of distribution operations, a project that would create around 50 new jobs, but the state of Mississippi is aggressively courting the Indiana-based company to move most of its Memphis operations south of the state line to the Magnolia State and local leaders believe hundreds of jobs are now at stake.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell have been in discussions with the company and its consultant, and staff at the city-county Economic Development Growth Engine are preparing tax incentives to compete with Mississippi, which has aggressively recruited companies with operations in Memphis and Shelby County.

“For me, as has been the case with other companies, it's holding onto the precious jobs we have,” said Wharton. “We're in survival mode.”

Wharton and Luttrell have asked the state of Tennessee, which historically has not offered retention incentives, to assist in efforts to keep the roughly 700 Cummins jobs in Memphis. Wharton and Luttrell met with Gov. Bill Haslam in Nashville Thursday, Aug. 14.

The situation highlights the unique economic development battles Memphis, nestled in the southwestern corner of the state against the Arkansas and Mississippi state lines, must wage.

For years, DeSoto County and the state of Mississippi have positioned themselves as low-tax alternatives to Memphis within minutes of all the transportation and business-related infrastructure and cultural amenities the Bluff City has to offer.

Wharton said the border battles Memphis has to fight to attract or retain jobs makes the city unique in Tennessee, a point he said he and Luttrell stressed to Haslam.

“Yes, we are at a disadvantage, particularly when compared to other regions of Tennessee,” said Wharton. “In Middle Tennessee and other parts of the state when a company is relocating, it’s from one Tennessee county to another Tennessee county, so we’re at a unique disadvantage and the state of Tennessee is generally against retention incentives. This was much broader than this one company.”

Wharton also said he was concerned about the possible economic “ripple effect” of a Cummins move to Mississippi could have, saying that while some employees may continue to live in Memphis others could move and that employees tend to spend money at shops, restaurants and other businesses near their employer.

“If you’re working in Marshall County or Hernando, that’s where you’re going to shop, to buy goods and services,” said Wharton.

After competing with DeSoto County for jobs in recent years, a new front in the economic development battle has emerged in Marshall County, which has successfully poached several large Memphis-area employers.

Asics America Corp. is expanding its footprint in Byhalia, adding 342,144 square feet to its central footwear and apparel distribution center inside the Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park. The expansion comes on the heels of a 513,000-square-foot build-to-suit completed in 2010, and now will consolidate the footwear distribution center with the apparel distribution center, which was previously in Southaven.

The Volvo Group announced in May that it is building a new distribution center in Byhalia, resulting in the closure of Volvo’s existing distribution center in Southeast Memphis. The 1 million-square-foot distribution center that will employ 250 people will be inside Panattoni Development Co.’s Gateway Global Logistics Center, a 1,500-acre industrial development that straddles Fayette and Marshall counties.

The Chickasaw Trail area offers its own extensive transportation infrastructure, including Norfolk Southern’s $100 million intermodal yard, but is still close to the metro Memphis area.

“You can still draw off all the amenities of a large metro area and have the big open spaces companies need for growth,” said Hall. “It’s an exciting time.”

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