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Carmichael lends hand in Nissan plant deal

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
Long labors in the vineyards of economic opportunity are bearing fruit for Meridian's Gil Carmichael and the state he twice sought to serve as governor.
The local businessman helped negotiate key rail transportation elements which, in turn, helped cinch the deal for Nissan to build a billion-dollar automotive manufacturing plant in Madison County. The official announcement was made last week but Carmichael's role has not been previously revealed.
Nearly 30 years ago, Carmichael was running unsuccessfully, twice for governor and, in 1972, for the U.S. Senate against the late U.S. Sen. Jim Eastland, D-Miss.
Despite the political rejection by Mississippi voters, Carmichael specialized in building successful businesses and economic development connections, first with a Volkswagen dealership in Meridian, another car dealership in Tuscaloosa and real estate, among other interests.
He was named by President George Bush as administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington, D.C., where Carmichael's solid relationships with railroad executives ended up paying huge dividends for Mississippi.
Carmichael acted as a mediator between two railroad presidents to help ensure Nissan built on a 1,000 acre site in Canton rather than setting up shop at a competing site in Alabama.
State officials apparently hit a snag in intensely- competitive negotiations with Nissan because the apparent price of railroad facilities in Canton were steep compared to the Alabama site. The Canton plant site was being serviced by the Canadian National Illinois Central (CNIC), a single company which resulted from the merger of the two railroads in 1998.
Carmichael says efficient, cost-effective rail transportation is a big selling point for automotive manufacturers, as was the case in the Nissan project, where project planners are looking for dollars to save. In fact, according to economic development specialists, the cost of doing business is often the deciding factor in corporate decisions to expand or relocate.
Thanks to Carmichael's involvement, Nissan got a rail deal it could accept.
Under terms of the arrangement Carmichael says KCS made concessions to give up some business to CNIC in order to make the deal viable for both railroads and Nissan.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@meridianstar.com.