Where are the jobs?: Wayne County leaders explain failed company - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Where are the jobs?: Wayne County leaders explain failed company deal

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WAYNE COUNTY, MS (WDAM) -

"It is like Christmas morning!"

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant made that statement on August 2016 as he and Wayne County leaders unwrapped some big economic news.

"So, it comes to fruition, with iMold here 33 new jobs," Bryant said.

Waynesboro Mayor Richard Johnson was a part of the announcement.

"We got a pretty good workforce that is available for these jobs," Johnson said.

Based out of Canada, iMold Plastics, a plastic manufacturing company, was set to bring jobs to Wayne County, but six months later one can only see a clearing where the factory would have been and no jobs. The news disappointed the regulars of Robinson's Street cafe in Waynesboro.

"We lose most of our young people because they have to leave town to get decent jobs," Marcell Davis said.

Janet Jackson said, "I haven't seen much growth."

Justin Dunham said, "There were a bunch of folks I know that were looking forward to the company coming into the county."

County leaders were looking forward to the job opportunities, but something went wrong.

"The building was our major red flag," said Sean Dunlap, executive director of the Wayne County Economic Development District.

Dunlap said he worked to bring iMold to the county for more than 15 months.

"When iMold initially came to us, they looked at an existing building," Dunlap said.

The building was an old glove factory behind the court house. It is the heart of the deal's failure.

"There was an 8-foot tall ceiling in this building that was constructed in 1949, (iMold) needed 24 feet," Dunlap said.

President of iMold, Manouch Ilkhani, said the ceilings were not an issue for him. He claims the real problem was the building promised to him was not zoned properly. This led to the county's plan B: deciding to build a new building for iMold in Meadowland Industrial Park.

Wayne County Board of Supervisors Attorney Cooper Leggett said the company's need for 24-foot ceilings put the bid for the building out of reach. The bid? $2.3 million. This was more than the county was willing to spend.

"Nobody was expecting that kind of cost," Leggett said.

Dunlap said, "The smallest bid was $800,000 more than we expected," Dunlap said.

Leggett added, "Maybe it was premature to make the announcement before you get the bid on the building."

"We tried everything under the sun to work with them, to bring them back to the drawing board and for them to finish this project," Ilkhani said.

The county terminated the contract with iMold two months after announcing the deal.

"I've never in my life seen anything like that, I've never faced anything so bizarre," Ilkhani said.

 Dunlap and Leggett said a lot of moving parts needed to come together that did not work.

"It was a gonna be a great deal for Wayne County, but unfortunately it didn't work out," Leggett said.

 But taxpayers were not completely off the hook. The county already bought equipment for iMold from a company called iSpice, which totaled more than half a million dollars. Ilkhani is the president of both companies.

When asked if iMold and iSpice are the same company, Dunlap said yes and no.

"iMold was an up-start company. iSpice was a different company entirely. iMold was the actual manufacturing process.They were separate corporations," Dunlap said.

What is not clear is why county supervisors voted to spend half a million in taxpayer dollars before they secured a building to use the equipment. Dunlap explained he does not feel the negotiations with iMold was a bad deal.

"There's no bad experience, you learn from every experience. We learned a lot from this deal," Dunlap said.

Dunlap said that half a million dollars worth of equipment not being used, which the county owns, could be incentive for the next company that comes to Wayne County.

"That's a pretty good position to be in, we've got more things now to accept industry than we've ever had," Dunalp said.

An industry that cannot come soon enough for the people of Wayne County.

 "It would be nice to see a factory or something come in and provide more jobs, because I believe the community and the town (are) really hurting right now," said Kendall Deese, owner of Robinson's Street Cafe.

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