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Nissan Mississippi's potential is tremendous

By By Buddy Bynum / editor
June 1, 2003
When Nissan Mississippi last week rolled out the first of a full production capacity of 400,000 vehicles a year, I was stunned again by the magnitude of the Canton plant and the tremendous potential it represents for Mississippi.
I'm no mathematician but it looks like 400,000 vehicles a year translates to 1,095 a day, 45 an hour, assuming 24/7 shifts. Imagine a fresh, newly-manufactured Quest minivan, Pathfinder Armada, Titan pickup or Altima rolling off the plant floor and beginning a journey toward a dealership's lot and, eventually, maybe, to your driveway every 80 seconds or so.
And confirmation of the great faith Nissan has in its management, production techniques and Mississippi workforce.
Some people grumbled when Nissan announced its intention to build a $1.4 billion auto manufacturing plant near Canton and the state of Mississippi agreed to chip in about $363 million in an array of incentives. Why should the state subsidize a private manufacturing operation, the skeptics wondered, particularly a foreign-based one.
State-backed incentives are really a product of tax revenues and tax revenues shouldn't be going to private businesses, they argued. The skeptics paid little attention to a private study showing that the state would recoup its incentive package by 2007, and many criticized the idea that Nissan would also attract suppliers that would bring in new jobs and investment.
Some people grumbled when old family farms in the rolling hills of rural Madison County were taken for the project. Fair compensation was eventually awarded.
Federal, state and local governments worked together to build roads and bridges and a new interchange just south of Canton that will help ease the traffic flow on Interstate 55 around the plant.
Some people grumbled when Nissan announced a very selective hiring procedure that would almost guarantee it would get the most qualified applicants for an initial 1,956 jobs growing to 5,300 by 2004. They feared all of the skilled folks elsewhere in Mississippi manufacturing would swarm to Nissan likes bees to a hive, leaving other companies high and dry.
More than 100,000 applications were received. Nissan said it has hired workers from 72 of Mississippi's 82 counties at wages that range from $13.25 an hour to $18 an hour. Top wages are about $21 an hour.
Nissan may very well have pulled skilled workers from other companies through the appeal of higher paying jobs and greater benefits. But, ultimately, isn't the purpose of economic development to give workers an opportunity to gain new skills and make more money in order to better support their families and improve their community's quality of life?
Today, Nissan has attracted 13 other companies to Mississippi which have, in turn, created more than 1,000 jobs and invested more than $110 million in their own operations.
Most economists agree that only three segments of the economy create new wealth manufacturing, mining and agriculture because they create valuable new products that did not previously exist. Everything else is just shuffling money from one pocket to another, like retail.
So, is the public investment in Nissan a good investment for Mississippi? You better believe it is. Nissan has changed the Mississippi landscape, economically and politically. It's a welcome change and, hopefully, a harbinger of good things to come.