Ready For Occupancy

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, August 31, 2010

For three years, Linbrook Business Park has been the scene ofcontinuous tree-clearing, earth-moving, hole-drilling,road-grading, general destruction and precise construction. It’salso been consuming tens of thousands of taxpayers’ dollarsthroughout that time.

But now the big machines are gone, the work is all done andelected leaders wrote the last checks in mid-August. Brookhaven’sand Lincoln County’s biggest investment – and the home oftomorrow’s industries – is officially paid for andshovel-ready.

“You feel a great sense of accomplishment at this point,” saidMike Jinks, chairman of the Linbrook Alliance, a directing boardcomposed of elected and business officials. “It’s a greatinvestment for Brookhaven. I know it’s costly, but it’s aninvestment that was needed, and one I think will pay out in theyears to come.”

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With work complete, the city’s and county’s third and newestindustrial park can now be marketed as a packaged deal to potentialinvestors.

Sprawling across 400 acres, it contains everything needed toinstall a new business or industry except the company building. Onemillion gallons of water circulate in a massive tank extending highover a new well tied into the municipal water system, andblacktopped roads extend in four directions through the futurecompany lots. Water and sewer follow those roads, waiting to behooked to a facility of any size, and a conduit for fiber opticcable is ready to insulate those high-tech wires if needed.

Linbrook is ready for the big trucks to roll in and out, andsoon it will look the part, too. The city is holding a $95,000grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Developmentthat will be used to install lighting, signage and landscaping to”dress it up,” Jinks said.

The park has come a long way in a stunningly short amount oftime, said Cliff Brumfield, executive vice president of theBrookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce.

“We had a fairly aggressive timeframe for completion. Thetypical industrial park is 5 to 10 years from inception tobuildable site,” he said. “We broke ground just a couple years ago,and now we’re totally ready for a new industry.”

When the Alliance – composed of members appointed by LincolnCounty supervisors, Brookhaven aldermen and the chamber – first metin January 2005, Linbrook Business Park was still just anundistinguished growth of pine protecting rural Lincoln County fromthe westward spread of the city down Brookway Boulevard. But thegreat plan was already in motion, and the Alliance had alreadydrawn up the boundaries, studied the red earth and planned theindustrial park.

It was time to buy. Supervisors let a $2.2 million bond, whichaldermen matched with a $1.6 million loan and $600,000 in cash. Thechamber contributed a further $500,000 to purchase the 400 acresand begin work. The federal Economic Development Administrationchipped in another $1.1 million, unusual for a project still on theground.

With the land secured, the Alliance poured on another $5.4million to install the necessities, a process that has gone onsince late 2007. With federal reimbursements factored in, the totalcost of the park stands at approximately $10 million. Supervisorsand aldermen have been paying the tab monthly since constructionbegan, with bills depending on the work completed during a 30-dayspan.

Some months, elected leaders approved payments to the Allianceof tens of thousands. During heavy months, those checks reachedinto the hundreds of thousands. Payments on the two bonds willtotal $108,600 and $158,600, respectively, and will be paid out forthe next 15 years or so.

Getting Linbrook to pay for itself will require a new industry,something that’s been scarce during the economic times of the pasttwo years. But there are movers out there, Brumfield said.

“We’ve had three looks at the park over the past two years andmany, many inquiries,” said Brumfield. “In every case those threeprojects were put on hold. But we expect to have more as theeconomy improves.”

Local economic developers started shopping the park around longbefore its completion. With Linbrook finalized and beautified, thedeal will be sweetened.

“We don’t have a conceptual idea, we now have the hardware inplace for a quick location decision,” Brumfield said. “It gives usa tremendous advantage when timeframe is of great importance. Italso helps in the permitting phase – we already have theenvironmental surveys and geotechnical data on hand, so we canautomatically respond to requests for information fromindustries.”

The target industry for Linbrook is light manufacturing,something that will mesh well with the park’s proximity tocommercial and residential areas and nearby Brookhaven Academy. Thepark’s businesses have to run clean and quiet – Linbrook is not theplace for belching smokestacks and lingering smells. Any companiesoccupying the park’s grounds will also have to offer higher-payingjobs and demonstrate longevity.

“Everything we do, the ultimate goal is the preservation of ourlocal economy,” Brumfield said.

The park’s completion gives local economic developers a state ofreadiness not enjoyed since the heady recruiting days of the 1980s,said Lincoln County Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop.

“We haven’t been this prepared to market ourselves since thedays of recruiting Wal-Mart Distribution Center and Packard,” saidBishop. “I think we’re in an era right now where we’re preparedjust like those guys were at that time, and some of the same guyswho were recruiting those industries are still doing it today.”

The local team is recruiting hard for Linbrook, which could alsobe the beneficiary of regional industrial recruiting efforts by theSouthwest Mississippi Partnership.

While the economy is still shaky, signs of improvement abound.Toyota is finally going ahead with its plant in Blue Springs, andlast week KiOR, a biomass company, announced plans for five newsites in Mississippi.

And, so far, 2010 has been a year of nothing but good news onthe local level, with several new businesses moving into Brookhavento open shop.

“We’re in an incredibly good situation to see some good thingshappen,” Bishop said. “Everybody in Lincoln County has participatedin this project, whether it be the construction of it, the bondpayments, the initiative of raising the money. And before it’s allsaid and done, everybody’s going to reap the benefits.”