Nissan Expansion Could Add 2,000 More Jobs

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove says it will cost the state as much as $75 million to jump-start a Nissan expansion and create 1,000 to 2,000 more jobs, and he expects the Legislature to approve the deal.

Musgrove late last week called a special legislative session to push an economic package to support the expansion of Nissan's $930 million plant that's under construction about 15 miles north of Jackson. The session is scheduled for Friday.

"Nissan is making a major expansion before ever producing one car,'' Musgrove said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press in his 15th-floor office atop the Woolfolk State Office Building.

"I believe that speaks volumes for Mississippi,'' he said.

Nissan officials have declined to comment specifically on the expansion, and Musgrove said they likely would not until sometime after Friday's legislative session. He noted that the Japanese automaker followed the same pattern when Nissan announced it had chosen Mississippi for the plant in 2000.

The Legislature approved $295 million in incentives on Nov. 6 of that year, and the automaker unveiled the project three days later.

Nissan is scheduled to begin production next year and eventually employ 4,000 people in Madison County. The company will make a minivan, a full-size pickup truck and both an Infiniti-brand and a Nissan-brand sport utility vehicle at the facility.

The once-struggling automaker plans to increase production by 1 million vehicles worldwide in the next few years, and there's speculation it could add another model to the lineup in Mississippi.

Musgrove said the latest incentives package the Legislature will consider is between $50 million and $75 million. Asked if the number of new jobs was between 1,000 and 2,000, the governor responded, "I think somewhere in that range is what you would call a major expansion.''

House Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, confirmed both the range of the financial package and the number of potential jobs. He said Tuesday the deal would involve a bond issue, with the state using the proceeds for infrastructure, work force training and improvements to the water supply to the plant.

Ford said he thought the legislation would pass in the House, "but it's not going to be a slam dunk.''

He said he'd spoken to economic development officials across the state, and they'd like to see some of Nissan's wealth spread their way in the form of suppliers and new jobs.

"A lot of economic development groups throughout the state feel they've been neglected,'' Ford said.

He said he expects legislators from those areas to make those points clear during the session.

Musgrove said the amount of money the state would spend relative to the number of new jobs "is a tremendous deal,'' particularly when compared to incentives packages elsewhere.

He referred specifically to Alabama's recent package of more than $234 million to lure Hyundai Motor Co. and its 2,000 jobs to that state. Mississippi was a finalist for that project.

"If you look at the number of jobs we're talking about here and that package of somewhere between $50 million and $75 million dollars, then all of a sudden you see a cost/benefit ratio of much lower than even the original package to Nissan,'' Musgrove said.

Former Mississippi State University President Malcolm Portera, who helped the state negotiate with Nissan in 2000, said the new deal looks like a winner on paper. He said a possible candidate for Nissan's mix of vehicles in Canton is the Murano, introduced earlier this year.

It's a crossover vehicle, part sport utility, part sedan.

"Nissan is one of the hot car companies right now,'' said Portera, now chancellor of the University of Alabama System. "They've got an exciting product line.''