The Vidalia Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday night to allow Syrah Resources to reduce the number of instate residents it hires for its Vidalia plant, while the Police Jury, the School Board and Sheriff’s Office will also consider the matter.
The Jury heard a presentation on the subject Monday night and will make its decision during a special meeting. The item will be on the School Board’s agenda Thursday night.
Syrah Resources is asking each public body to allow the company to reduce the number of instate residents it hires at its plant in Vidalia from 25 to 15.
Concordia Economic Development Executive Director Heather Malone and Syrah COO Paul Jahn made the request during both the Jury and Vidalia meetings. Malone said the company wanted to be able to draw from the entire labor pool in the Natchez-Vidalia area.
In Vidalia, aldermen approved the request on a 3-2 vote with Sabrina Doré and Tommy Probst voting no. Supporting the measure were Jon Betts, Tron McCoy and Robert Gardner.
Discussion of the matter got heated at times. Doré and Probst said Louisiana residents should be hired for those jobs and that it was part of the reason they supported the project.
Doré said she found it “difficult to believe” that 25 qualified employees can’t be found in Louisiana.
Probst said anyone “really interested in a job” would move to town.
But Jahn said that no one ever informed the company that if it hired from Mississippi that it would put Syrah’s business in jeopardy. Additionally, he said his company needed to be able to hire the most qualified applicants because of stiff competition from industry leader China.
“We’re looking for a foundation to compete,” he said.
Betts, who offered the motion of support, said Syrah “needed the flexibility” in their hiring process.
Syrah announced last year that it would invest $25 million in a graphite processing facility in Vidalia. The company will produce graphite anode materials for batteries in electric vehicles and other products. Syrah is operating in a 50,000-square-foot industrial building formerly occupied by a company that processed rubber.
Malone said Syrah is presently installing equipment at the plant and has hired 10 employees with average wages of $60,000 annually.
She said when the state and local governments approved an incentive package for Syrah last year that it required the hiring of Louisiana residents only. Malone said that since Vidalia is a border community with Natchez, that every business on both sides of the Mississippi River by necessity hires both Louisiana and Mississippi residents.
Craft said that Vidalia and Concordia Parish enjoyed growth during the era when Natchez had three major industries and many Louisiana residents crossed the Mississippi River Bridge daily to work there, noting that his father was employed at the paper mill for four decades.
“We’re blessed to have them here,” he said of Syrah.
Malone said officials discussed that allowing Syrah to hire 50 percent of its workforce from Louisiana and 50 percent from across the river would be fair. But Malone said Syrah wanted to commit to hiring 60 percent of its workforce from Louisiana, thereby splitting the 25 jobs it promised into 15 from Louisiana and 10 from Mississippi.
At the Vidalia meeting Tuesday night, the former manager of the now closed Fruit of the Loom Plant, said that a third of the employees the company hired were from Mississippi.
For Syrah’s request to be approved, the Police Jury, School Board, Town of Vidalia and Sheriff must support it. Malone said an answer was needed from all before June 28.
Malone said one reason Syrah committed to Concordia Parish was because of its appreciation to local governing bodies supporting the incentive package last year even before the company announced where it would locate.
Syrah was granted a 5-year exemption (at 100%) from property tax on qualifying properties as they relate to the manufacturing process, as well as an option to renew its exemption for an additional three years (at 80 percent). Officials estimated an assessed value of $1,950,000 based on the projections provided by the company.
Based on the current millage, less account depreciation, the Town of Vidalia’s exemption estimate was $6,610.50 per year for 5 years ($33,052.50) and $5,288.40 per year for 3 years ($15,865.20).
In a letter to the School Board last year, Malone noted: “Based on our current millage, the School District’s exemption estimates $78,799.50 per year for 5 years ($393,997.50) and $63,039.60 per year for 3 years ($189,118.00),” not including depreciation.
To the Police Jury, Malone wrote last year: “Based on our current millage, the Police Jury’s exemption estimates $60,294.00 per year for 5 years ($301,470.00) and $48,235.20 per year for 3 years ($144,705.60),” not including depreciation.
Malone said Tuesday that Syrah has already paid property taxes on the building and the local sales tax on the equipment.