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No land for local distillery in industrial park

Craft breweries and distilleries have become quite popular and profitable in recent years, and a proposal was on the table this week to have one in Lafayette County.

Two Mississippi success stories have been Cathead Vodka, founded in 2010, and Yalobusha Brewery Company, located in Water Valley, which opened in 2013.

Local Realtor Clayton Faggert had been looking to get on board the brewing bandwagon. Faggert proposed puchasing 2 acres in the Lafayette County Industrial Park to build a distillery and call it Gulf South Spirits. However, the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors emerged from a nearly hour-long executive session Monday and announced it was denying Faggert’s request to purchase the land in the industrial park. The board met in executive session rather than in an open meeting because the issue dealt with the sale of county-owned property.

Faggert did not comment when contacted by the EAGLE. Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation CEO and President Jon Maynard also declined to comment.

Difference of opinion

Board of Supervisors President Jeff Busby said the reason the majority of the board did not favor the new business was due to the fact it would initially employ two people with the potential to add up to 10 employees.

“I do wish the business owner well,” Busby said. “He has a good business model and I’m all for small business, but when I think of an industrial park, I think of creating multiple jobs.”

When asked if the industrial park has minimum standards, such as number of jobs, Busby said it did not.

“But that is something we are going to look into changing,” Busby said.

The decision of the board was not unanimous, with Supervisor Kevin Frye one of two supervisors who favored the start-up business.

“This manufacturing facility was recommended for approval by our local economic development team, with the understanding that the business would follow the path of most small business start-ups — start small and grow,” Frye said. “I fully supported the proposal for a number of reasons: the offer was fair and based on a current appraisal of the property; the jobs created would pay more than the average income in Lafayette County; jobs would have been created not just at this manufacturing facility, but also short-term jobs in the local construction industry, to build the facility, and long-term jobs in the local agricultural industry, to supply the facility.”

Frye agrees covenants for the industrial park should be created, but doesn’t agree with the notion the industrial park should only be used for larger manufacturing. Frye and Busby both agree that the days of large manufacturing businesses employing hundreds are not likely, so the strategy of the EDF to seek out smaller businesses that employ a few dozen or more is a good one. Currently there are two businesses in the industrial park with fewer than 20 employees, according to Frye.

Frye also said the parcel of land Faggert was seeking to purchase was not suitable for a large manufacturing facility.

“Only a small project such as this one is feasible,” Frye said.

Frye is concerned about the message being sent to other small businesses or start-up businesses in Lafayette County.

“I believe that one of my most important duties as an elected representative is to support the growth of our economy,” Frye said. “Maybe the opportunity will arise some day to attract another established corporation looking to hire a large number of employees, but in the meantime, we can and should continue to grow our economy by supporting projects of all sizes.

“My sense is that residents of our community simply want the opportunity to earn a good living — whether their employer is large or small,” Frye continued. “Unfortunately, the message sent by the majority of the board who rejected this proposal is that Lafayette County is no longer interested in supporting small businesses and local entrepreneurship.”