Link leader elaborates on new solar-silicon company – The Dispatch: www.cdispatch.com/news/article.asp?aid=12880
Joe Higgins, CEO of the Columbus Lowndes Development Link, knew what Rotary Club members wanted: They wanted to know more about Calisolar. And Higgins was happy to oblige, talking at length about the new industrial-development project during the club’s monthly meeting, Tuesday afternoon at the Columbus Country Club.
When he took the helm of the Link eight years ago, Higgins came to the Rotary Club and asked members if they would leave Lowndes County if they were paid enough money to do so. He was floored by the response: Many people said yes.
At the time, he couldn’t figure it out. He wondered why this community didn’t believe in itself. He wondered why this community didn’t believe it could win.
Eight years, $5 billion in new investments and three major projects later, a triumphant Higgins had a new question for Rotarians: "Do you believe now? Because if you don’t, we’ve probably got a problem."
Higgins, along with a host of others, spent nearly a year trying to lure Calisolar, a California-based solar silicon manufacturer, to Columbus. When the company chose Mississippi over Ohio for its newest project, Higgins was elated.
Last week, Mississippi lawmakers approved a $75.25 million incentive package for the company, which promises to bring 951 high-paying jobs (starting salary before benefits will be $45,000) to the area. The incentive package includes a $59.5 million equipment and construction loan, along with $11.25 million for the necessary infrastructure and an additional $4.5 million for local workforce training. The total coast of the project is expected to be $600 million.
An additional 1,000 construction workers — making an average of $2,000 a week — are expected to be hired this fall, or more likely, at the beginning of next year, to build the 1 million-square-foot facility. It will be located east of Industrial Park Road, on 258 acres directly behind Mitchell Beer Distributing in the industrial park and will take a year-and-a-half to two years to build.
It’s a "development of regional impact," Higgins said, on par with similar projects like Severstal and Paccar. The facility will use around 170 MW of power, more electricity than the city of Columbus, and an average of 500,000 gallons of water and sewer per day.
"At the Link, we think this represents our third ‘super project’ in eight years," Higgins said. "For a town of this size … that’s pretty big stuff."
Company officials are expected to arrive in Columbus Thursday. Though they had received a $275 million conditional loan guarantee from the U.S. Energy Department in June to build in Ohio, Higgins said they followed in the footsteps of Kior and turned the money down.
The Mansfield News Journal, a newspaper in Mansfield, Ohio, reported this summer that company officials said they pulled out of the deal — which only allowed the money to be used in Ohio — because they could not meet a Sept. 30 construction deadline.
But Higgins suggested companies also might choose to decline Energy Department money for another reason — to maintain autonomy.
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