Canal pact aids Waterway job attraction

Gov. Phil Bryant and Quijano look on as Mays signs the agreement. (courtesy photo)
Staff Writer

A partnership that has contributed to hundreds of jobs Clay, Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Monroe and other counties in Mississippi and three other Southern states just got stronger, opening the door for even more investment opportunities.

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority and its Central American counterpart, the Panama Canal Authority, have signed a five-year extension of a memorandum that re-enforces connections between the states along the Tenn-Tom and foreign nations and companies.

“In today’s world, information is knowledge, it’s a critical tool to helping our existing businesses create new jobs and attracting new ones. That’s what this agreement is about, building those partnerships and relationships,” explained Mitch Mays, the director of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Development Authority.

“With this agreement, we shrink distances and reinforce ties. The global supply chain will become faster and more efficient. We are grateful to have the Panama Canal as a partner,” added Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, who is chairman of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Development board.

Bryant and Mays joined Panama Canal Authority Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano in signing the memorandum in a special ceremony on Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal’s Pacific coast.

Dozens of companies depend on products that come and go through the Panama Canal, from steel and scrap at Steel Dynamics to soybeans grown in Mississippi to aluminum ingots for companies in Tennessee.

Steel Dynamics alone brings 800,000 tons a year in and out of the Waterway and some of that goes through the Panama Canal. Tom Soya in Clay County ships tons of soybeans to Asia. Wood chips from Amory go to South America and Asia.

“We need to know what products from the Tenn-Tom are going through the Canal in both directions,” Mays said. “We can then work with our existing companies to better meet their needs. And we can reach out to other companies about how locating on the Tenn-Tom in Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky or Tennessee can benefit them.

“It allows us to better support local, regional and state economic development and job-producing efforts,” he added.

Barges enter the Waterway at the Port of Mobile and reach far inland, supporting jobs and commerce at ports in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky at places as diverse as Muscle Shoals, Ala., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Paducah, Ky.
The memorandum with the Panama Canal was first signed in 2010 and was renewed in 2012. The opening of a second, larger Panama Canal last year made the new agreement even more timely.