EADS Leaders Tour Potential Site At Stennis

This was a very important week for Hancock County and for Stennis Space Center. Both rolled out the red carpet Thursday for a site selection team from the aerospace company EADS North America.

EADS is looking for a place to build a plant to design and assemble the KC 3-30 refueling tanker plane for the U.S. Air Force. Stennis is one of just four finalists.

If Hancock County and Stennis were to land this deal, it would bring more than a thousand new jobs to the area.

As the EADS dignitaries were bused around town, signs lining the highways welcomed them. The local newspaper had a pleasant greeting as well. All the special treatment didn't go unnoticed.

"I'll tell you what's impressed me most about today is how many people have worked so hard to present Hancock County well to a bunch of people from outside. And that's the biggest impression I took home," EADS CEO Dave Oliver, Jr said.

Dave Oliver is President and CEO of EADS North America Defense. He and 24 others spent the day on a fact finding mission.

Their goals were to take a closer look at the airport grounds, find out about the available work force and check out the schools, quality life and modes of transportation.

The site team saw those things from the ground and from the air.

"Stennis is a good site. You've got wide open area. The runway needs to be lengthen a bit, but you have the water access. You're talking about big pieces of things you have to move, water movement and road access are terribly important," Oliver said.

"We're confident we have what EADS North America and their team are looking for. We are aware that competition will be fierce," Hal Walters, Director of Hancock County's Port & Harbor Commission, said.

After touring three other possible sites this week, including one in Mobile, the company executives made no commitments, but did offer some encouraging words about the Hancock County site.

"I'm sure it will grade up well. I don't see any potential problems at the moment," Oliver said.

If the site measures up, the state's incentive package will have to measure up as well. County leaders say companies often base their decisions on the financial support they recieve.

EADS leaders are expected to announce their decision June 22nd. The company expects to make a $500 million investment in whichever community it selects.

by Al Showers