- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:

July 7

Greenwood (Mississippi) Commonwealth on lousy use of $75 million:

It has been a rough couple of weeks for the legacy of Haley Barbour’s eight years as Mississippi governor.

There is the ongoing drama of Chris McDaniel’s allegation that Barbour and other influential supporters of U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran used unethical and possibly illegal means to turn the Republican runoff in Cochran’s favor. McDaniel has said he will formally challenge the results in the next few days.

That situation most likely will be resolved in court. But there was another item last week, involving economic development, which casts a greater shadow over Barbour and his stewardship while in office.

The state has agreed to give KiOR, a biofuel company, another four months to come up with the $1.9 million it owed Mississippi on June 30 as a payment on a $75 million, no-interest loan.

KiOR’s business plan is to take wood chips, which Mississippi can supply in abundance, and pressure them at a high temperature into synthetic crude oil. The company opened a plant in Columbus in 2012, but it has already stopped production.

The problem, as with so many alternative energy ideas, is that the idea never worked as it was supposed to. The California financier who owns 88 percent of KiOR apparently has refused to lend the company any more money; thus its problem making the payment on the loan from Mississippi.

Maybe the state will be repaid for its $75 million KiOR investment, but those odds don’t look good right now. KiOR’s possible default comes on top of $27 million Mississippi lost in a loan to a solar panel maker in Senatobia that closed in 2012.

And both of those pale in comparison to the $1 billion given to the Southern Co. (largely in higher rates to electricity customers because of cost overruns) for its $5.5 billion Kemper County coal gasification power plant, which is being built at a time when the smart money in the utility industry is generating power with low-cost natural gas.

The lesson is this: If Mississippi absolutely must compete with other states and give huge gifts to large corporations to win mega-industrial projects, such as the Nissan and Toyota assembly plants and the Yokohama Tire plant, then governors, lawmakers and economic developers have to restrain themselves elsewhere. They have to develop the backbone to avoid commitments to higher-risk ventures based on unproven technology.




July 1

The Dispatch, Columbus, Mississippi, on soccer’s popularity:

This afternoon, the United States plays Belgium in the World Cup. A win would send the U.S. to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in the modern era.

In three matches, the USA’s success has been met with growing enthusiasm in a nation where football — American football, that is — reigns supreme.

A record 13.8 million Americans watched the US battle to a dramatic 2-2 tie against Portugal on June 22, while 10.8 million tuned in on Thursday afternoon to watch the US qualify for the Round of 16. The U.S. team advanced despite a 1-0 loss to Germany in that game, setting the state for today’s knock-out round game against Belgium.

Clearly, interest in the game has spiked as the U.S. has made its run through the early stages of the World Cup.

Inevitably, the question emerges: Will the success of the U.S. in this year’s World Cup increase the popularity of the sport in the United States?

The answer? A little.

If there was a watershed moment for soccer in the U.S., it occurred 20 years ago when the U.S. won the 1994 World Cup. Suddenly, the game burst onto U.S. consciousness in a way like never before. Within a year of that event, there were 13 million youth playing soccer in the U.S. Now, 20 years later, that number is about the same.

That is not to say that soccer has not made significant inroads. Roger Short, the director of the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority, says soccer is second only to baseball in the number of participants in CLRA-sponsored sports.

Of course, participation isn’t the total measure of popularity.

It might surprise some to know that the average attendance for the U.S. pro soccer league, Major League Soccer, is higher than average attendance for the NBA. This year, MLS signed an 8-year contract with ESPN, Fox Sports and Spanish-language Univision, which will also dramatically increase the sport’s profile.

Events such as this year’s World Cup help that growth by raising the sports profile.

That’s something Short noticed in relation to another sport. Short said that when women’s fast-pitch softball was added as an Olympic sport in 1996, it created an burst of interest in fast-pitch softball among America’s young girls. That interest began to decline, however, when softball was dropped as an Olympic sport in 2008.

There is one factor that could stimulate the popularity of the sport in the U.S.

Soccer is perceived as a good alternative to American football, which is struggling with safety issues. The NFL recently settled a class-action lawsuit for $765 million that involved 4,500-plus plaintiffs over concussions. More and more incidents of concussions on the college and high school level are beginning to give some parents pause when it comes enrolling their sons in youth football. Participation in the two large national youth football leagues had dropped by 6.7 percent and 9.5 percent over the past three years.

It isn’t much of a prediction to say that soccer will continue to grow in popularity in the U.S.

This year’s World Cup is another touchstone in that growth.




July 8

Northeast Mississippi Journal, Tupelo, Mississippi, on Toyota philanthropy:

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi on Monday further enhanced its enviable record of exceptional philanthropy for the region with an announcement that it will donate, with other local business help, $100,000 worth of materials and labor for a water garden and gathering area in Blue Springs, its home community in the state.

Toyota and Blue Springs officials gathered in downtown Blue Springs, a community of about 400 people, to reveal plans for the Toyota-Blue Springs Water Garden and Education Park on a three-quarter-acre tract near the post office. B&B; Concrete and MMC Materials will donate concrete for the pavilion area and for a side walk to encircle the garden park.

Labor will be provided by Toyota employees and residents of Blue Springs.

Toyota, in addition a $50 million education endowment announcement at the 2007 ceremony revealing it would locate an assembly plant in Blue Springs (within the PUL Alliance of Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties), has made approximately $1.5 million in other philanthropic investments since 2007.

In 2013, Toyota’s philanthropy in the PUL Alliance region exceeded $500,000 and empowered the work of several dozen agencies and programs, including libraries and the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Toyota assembles Corolla automobiles at the Blue Springs plant, which employs 2,000. A company brochure, Toyota Operations 2014, states that 2,699 indirect jobs are tied to the plant through suppliers and dealers, with a direct investment of $870.8 million.



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