Unlike some states, Mississippi is creating manufacturing jobs, and we’re doing it in the high-tech sector where a wide array of complex products are now made in Mississippi.
The latest example is Raytheon’s plant in Forest. I was delighted to be there on October 11 for groundbreaking on a 90,000 square-foot expansion of its facility which will create 100 jobs. Once completed, it will produce the latest radar for our F/A-18 Navy fighter aircraft – units so good they’re designed to outlast the aircraft itself.
This innovation didn’t happen by accident or by somebody at Raytheon just deciding that Forest is where they’d like to invest. What began in 1962 as a plant making small home appliances like clocks and blenders, has evolved into a defense contracting facility owned by Hughes, creating everything from military radios to torpedoes.
In 1997, Hughes Electronics and Raytheon merged, and there were a lot of questions as to whether Raytheon would remain committed to Forest. Employment at the plant was down to just 250 people. At that time Congressman Sonny Montgomery, myself and Congressman Chip Pickering did some heavy lobbying with Raytheon to keep the Forest plant, and they did. In fact, employment jumped to about 700 workers, and this new expansion will take the payroll up to more than 1,000 employees.
I’ll admit I got a little emotional speaking before the employees and local leaders gathered in Forest to celebrate this groundbreaking. Raytheon Forest is one of the priorities Congressman Montgomery asked Chip and me to look after when he left the Congress. As you know, Sonny passed away this year, but his spirit definitely was with us in Forest on October 11. He would have been proud – not of some brick building, or some big corporation or a fancy electronic component built here – but proud of Mississippians, the workers who made this expansion possible.
The workers at Forest have built a reputation for building quality products and delivering them on time. Our dedicated work force is what attracts companies to Mississippi. You can have the best Congressional delegation in Congress, and Mississippi does. You can have great cooperation between federal, state and local leaders, and we do. But ultimately it is the work force and their capability of producing consistent quality, on time, that makes the difference.
Of the various product types and thousands of individual electronic units built by workers at Raytheon Forest, all have been delivered to our military men and women on time – up to 60 consecutive months in some cases. Now that’s a reputation that sticks and one that sells Mississippi to other potential investors.
Raytheon Forest, along with other new manufacturing facilities like Nissan in Canton, Eurocopter at the Golden Triangle Airport, Northrop Grumman’s new unmanned aircraft plant in Moss Point, the upcoming Tower Automotive in Meridian and the new steel plant in Columbus, came to Mississippi because of the cooperation among our leaders, specifically through commitments to help companies find sites, lower taxes, good educational facilities and a trained or trainable work force. These factors, coupled with the new “Go Zone” tax incentives which I pushed through Congress to spur business investment following Hurricane Katrina, are giving Mississippi an unprecedented advantage in the competition for skilled, high-paying jobs, including those in the manufacturing sector.
Sure, our economy has changed, and it is still changing. Like many states, Mississippi has lost jobs making products like toasters, t-shirts and picture frames. But that doesn’t mean we can’t replace those jobs with better ones in the manufacture of cars, radars and aircraft – jobs on which Mississippians can build careers and earn good retirements. That’s exactly what Mississippi is doing, and right now, there’s no better time for products to be made in Mississippi.
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column.
Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email