Chamber Preps Red Carpet for Mitsubishi

By Andy Meek

The Greater Memphis Chamber has begun sending out invitations to an event Monday at The Peabody hotel at which a significant announcement will be made.

The invitations include the names of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. The invitations, which also suggest Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay will be in attendance, were sent out to public and private sector leaders Tuesday.

One of the recipients from city government said the subject of the event is the official word that Mitsubishi will build a manufacturing facility at Belz Enterprises-owned Rivergate Industrial Port.

Negotiations between Mitsubishi and the city and chamber first became public last month. Mitsubishi has not yet confirmed any details, and the chamber declined comment.

Mark Herbison, the chamber’s senior vice president of economic development, hinted at a couple of major economic development announcements coming soon at this week’s meeting of the Society of Industrial and Office Realtors.

“We’re getting ready to have an announcement hopefully in the next few weeks for a project we’ve been working over two years on,” Herbison said.

“There are other projects that have been in the pipeline for over four years that may be coming to fruition in the next few months.”

More than one source has referred to the negotiations regarding a mystery company and Rivergate Industrial Port as “Project 21.”

The Houston Business Journal in April reported officials there also were courting a company using the same “Project 21” code name that was considering the development of a $200 million industrial facility.

Underscoring the secrecy involved, the Houston newspaper reported executives were given a waiver to sign before taking a helicopter ride over an industrial park in the city. Each executive signed their last name as “Smith.”

Monday’s event in Memphis bringing the official announcement from Mitsubishi would follow other recent investment in the city from the company.

In late 2010, Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. announced plans to bring a new company to Memphis in a $13.1 million project.

The Memphis site will be one of two to manufacture and sell electrolyte for lithium batteries, according to a news release.

Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Chemical is the only company in the world to provide all four key lithium battery materials: electrolyte, anode, cathode and separator.

The commercial operation is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2012.

An announcement stemming from the Mitsubishi negotiations also would be the latest in a string of economic development wins for Memphis and Shelby County.

Paper, packaging and tissue maker Kruger Inc., for example, reportedly is eyeing a major expansion in Memphis.

Tennessee is “ready to offer an incentive package” to encourage Kruger to install a new machine at its existing Memphis plant, according to a report in the Montreal Gazette.

The paper also reported a Canadian development agency is talking with Kruger about instead financing a new machine at its mill north of Montreal – a roughly $100 million project.

Last month, the Shelby County Commission and Memphis City Council each approved $22 million in bond financing – for a total of $44 million – to help smooth the way for Swedish appliance maker Electrolux to develop a LEED-certified plant at Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park.

The Electrolux deal was announced in December. It will bring more than 1,200 jobs to the city.