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Governor helps celebrate McLane’s $7.2 mil growth

Gov. Haley Barbour joined Brookhaven and Lincoln Countyofficials Monday in celebrating a $7.2 million facility improvementproject at McLane Southern.

Barbour took the opportunity to tout his legislative agenda,including efforts to improve the state’s business climate.

“We need to never lose sight of economic development as itrelates to existing business,” said Barbour, citing statistics that50-80 percent of jobs are created by businesses already located ina community.

Discussing a changing business landscape, Barbour said there isa need for businesses to be able to do more with the same number ofpeople. Companies face three options in facing that challenge:innovate, immigrate or evaporate, he said.

“It is a knowledge-based economy,” said Barbour, who alsopromoted the need for work force training to enable the state tohave the higher-paying jobs that many people want.

McLane Southern President Jim Trent said the improvementrepresents a $7.2 million investment in the Brookhaven facility byBerkshire Hathaway, which bought the McLane company in 2003. Thenew sortation system will improve efficiency and reduce expensessuch as workers compensation costs.

“It will make us very productive at what we do,” Trent said.”It’s another step above our competition.”

McLane Southern currently serves convenience stores and othercustomers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, southern Missouriand Western Tennessee. Trent was hopeful that the expansion wouldallow McLane to increase its service area.

Work on installing the sortation system began in late November,Trent said. It is expected to be fully operational by April 15,just in time for the facility’s busiest time of the year.

McLane currently has 533 employees. The expansion will allowMcLane to grow its business operations while maintaining itsemployee base.

“We’re hoping we can stay with our present employee base,” Trentsaid.

Chandler Russ, Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerceexecutive vice-president, said the McLane project began during avisit to the company by the chamber’s existing business committee.Chamber efforts, working with state economic development officialsand the county board of supervisors, will allow McLane to save$790,000 in doing the the over $7 million expansion.

“We’re pleased they chose to invest those dollars in Brookhavenand Lincoln County,” Russ said. “And we’re pleased with the jobsthis expansion will allow them to retain.”

Mississippi Development Authority Director Leland Speedaccompanied Barbour on his trip to Brookhaven Monday.

Speed said McLane is a “company to watch.” He said expansions atexisting businesses like McLane need to happen more often in thestate.

“This is a model of what we want a lot of other people to watchand emulate,” Speed said.

While discussing economic development efforts, Barbour continuedhis campaign pledge of no tax increases. He said Mississippialready has some of the highest state and local taxes in theSouth.

Regarding budget preparation, Barbour said officials need to use”honest numbers” and no “funny money.” He said the state should notplan to spend money if it doesn’t know it’ll be there whenneeded.

If money doesn’t come in as budgeted, Barbour said the state isfaced with the option of raising taxes or cutting spending. Hepledged his support for the latter.

“As long as I’m governor, it’s going to be spending cuts,”Barbour said.

Tort reform was another focus during Barbour’s brief speech. Hesaid lawsuit abuse is driving the costs of doing business in thestate to intolerably high levels.

“Lawsuit abuse is a terrible burden on job creation,” Barboursaid.

In the area of work force development, Barbour said it isincumbent upon the state to provide the skills that workers need inthe changing business environment.

Barbour praised the Senate for passage of a bill to streamlinework force development activities. He said the House was expectedto take up its version of the measure Tuesday.

“It won’t solve every problem, but it’s an enormous step in theright direction,” Barbour said.