Panther Creek megasite — Putting a value proposition out there

Megasites can bring mega worries to the CEOs and directors of companies looking to put a major manufacturing plant or other high-cost facility on one.

Photo: Canton’s Panther Creek Commerce Center, a megasite of around 1,000 development-ready acres and nearly 1,000 additional acres for future expansion, is just around the corner from the 10-year-old Nissan plant.

Once those worries grow to a certain point or linger for too long, the decision makers put the megasite in a folder designated for “uncertain propositions.”

A Purgatory like that is the last place economic developers want to see their industrial sites languish. The alternative is to compile data on the site so comprehensive and practical that the site becomes as close to a solidly safe bet as today’s economic development sector can offer.

Such is the case with Canton’s Panther Creek Commerce Center, a megasite of around 1,000 development-ready acres and nearly 1,000 additional acres for future expansion just around the corner from the 10-year-old Nissan plant, says Tim Coursey, executive director of the Madison County Economic Development Authority.

Considered one of the top available megasites in the Southeast, Panther Creek is marketed by several entities including Coursey’s MDEDA and CB Richard Ellis; Steve Rogers and Associates on behalf of the Walker family, owners of the former cattle land; Entergy’s Business and Economic Development Division; and the Mississippi Development Authority.

Each is likely to approach different prospects. But all of their pitches cite two of Panther Creek’s main attributes: Standard certification for industrial development and Entergy’s even higher level of site certification.

“With the certification,” Coursey said, “we should be able to tell you what it would cost to develop that property.”

That includes an American Land Title Association., or ALTA, survey. “This is an expensive and all encompassing survey,” Coursey said. “It shows everything. Fence lines, posts, water lines, sewer lines…”

The certification also details soil borings, wetlands assessments, estimates on infrastructure costs, including building roads and using fill dirt.

“All of this is to short circuit the time frame to develop a property,” Coursey said. “You don’t have to speculate on the data.”

When corporate site selectors ask the questions, “We have the answers,” he added.

Many of those answers have come through Entergy’s certification of the site, said John Turner, the power company’s director of business and economic development for Mississippi.

“The whole point is to understand the development costs and schedule” needed to complete development, Turner said.

Turner said national and international site selectors rank Panther Creek Commerce Center as “one of the top sites in the Southeast.”

In addition to the megasite’s proximity to Nissan and two Interstate 55 interchanges, the high ranking can be attributed to the firm estimates on the cost to development on the site, he said.

You can’t be in the game unless your prospects know what their costs and opportunities are, he emphasized.

Why Panther Creek?

Coursey said the Madison County Economic Development Authority conceived the idea for developing the Panther Creek tract and obtained a long-term option on it. The data collection and joint marketing followed.

The site has a master plan and the advance work for required permitting has been done. The Madison County Board of Supervisors recently committed to a $10-million bond issue to cover infrastructure costs once a major tenant signs up. That kind of pledge can be key in negotiating with a site prospect, Coursey noted.

Other key assets that Coursey, Turner and other marketers of the site can offer include a fully functioning sewage plant and a large waterline that can be extended from the nearby Nissan plant.

Accessibility includes 1 ½ -mile proximity to I-55 via two interchanges: Nissan Parkway and Mississippi Highway 22.

In all, said Coursey, the megasite’s infrastructure costs can be “some of the lowest in the state when you are talking about a high-impact company.”

While a megasite typically draws interests from a single large user, Coursey and the others are seeking multiple tenants as well as a solo tenant.

Coursey said his agency and its partners in selling of Panther Creek want tenants that will provide “the jobs of the future.”

Specifically, he said, these are “higher paying, sustainable jobs of the future, whether that is automotive supplier that has manufacturing going on or a medical device company.”

Entergy, which Coursey credits with doing some of the major marketing for Panther Creek, targets site selectors for advanced manufacturing and aerospace, among others. In going after those, said Entergy’s Turner, “I think it competes well. Once again, that goes to the available workforce and quality of life” the region offers.

Turner said the marketing also targets supply-chain companies, not just for Nissan but for companies serving automotive and aerospace companies throughout the Southeast region.

Nissan is seeking to draw more of its suppliers onto its site. This can create opportunities for Panther Creek, according to Turner.

“There are other suppliers that are in Japan or are in Germany that may want to come” to the megasite, he said.

While physical attributes of the site, workforce quality and quality of life are strong selling points, Entergy is also touting the low energy costs found throughout the South, Turner noted.

Expect the region’s edge in energy costs to grow in the years ahead, the power company executive said. “Gas and electricity are really going to be the competitive advantage” over locations such as Mexico, Europe and Asia.

Coursey said he is impressed with the effort and resources Entergy is putting into marketing Panther Creek. “They have set up a number of visits from foreign investors and consultants,” he said. “They have really upped their game here (in Mississippi) in the last year and a half. They have gotten real aggressive about recruiting and marketing.”

Entergy, he said, does especially well at gathering the intelligence and knowing what site consultants want.

For his own marketing, Coursey said he has not been shy about asking for critiques from site selectors.

“We are asking consultants, ‘What are you guys looking for? What are we missing?’”

The result, he said, is that the consultants are “telling us how to perform at the highest levels.”

For now, Coursey noted, “We think we have figured some things out. We have got to put a value proposition out there.”

Mississippi Business Journal
by Ted Carter
Published: April 17,2014