Volkswagen isnt the last hope for us

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The issue: Volkswagen will consider north Alabama or Tennessee for an automobile plant.

Our position: The success of the East Mississippi megasite will lift the Black Belt.

Word from Volkswagen: The company has narrowed its search.

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The finalists, according to a report in Automotive News, are Alabama, Michigan and Tennessee.

But that doesn&8217;t necessarily mean the automaker will build a new plant in the United States, the company says.

The Dothan area was up for a look, according to officials there. But Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver said Sunday night he had learned Volkswagen had eliminated the area.

He believes the northern portion of the state is in the running.

At one point, we here in the Black Belt held out hope that the automaker would take a long look at a megasite in East Mississippi near Meridian.

The site is in Lauderdale County near Kewanee, the last Mississippi settlement before reaching the Alabama State line.

In 2003, then-Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove announced a regional economic cooperative agreement with Alabama that centered on the site located along Interstate 20.

Musgrove took it as a campaign issue against Republican Haley Barbour. Barbour also picked up the issue

and ran with it, said he and Alabama GOP Gov. Bob Riley had already discussed an agreement.

Then Mississippi voters elected Barbour as governor. Nearly two years ago, as ToyotaManufacturing searched the South for a location, the governor urged them to take a look at the Kewanee site.

They did.

But in the long run, they chose the Blue Springs megasite just north of Tupelo, Miss.

An available work force, good educational resources and the cooperation of three counties to put the megasite and its development above all else.

Combined with incentives approved by the Mississippi Legislature, a region once considered the furniture making capital of the Southeast, turned to automobiles as those furniture jobs moved to the Far East &8212; China, Vietnam and Laos.

And, because this time, Volkswagen has decided to look further north, we here in the Black Belt shouldn&8217;t hang our heads.

Interstate 20 is an Automotive Corridor and the states of Alabama and Mississippi should work closely together to put together a package that will allow this region a breath of life.

That cooperative effort continues through job training that links Wallace Community College Selma and others in the region and in East Mississippi.

That&8217;s a key. A trained workforce.

A strong community college system also plays a role in attracting automakers.

We&8217;re holding out hope that Mississippi and Alabama will market strongly the Kewanee site to other global industries looking for a home in the Deep South.