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Street Talk

Last week the chicken plant closed and what’s to come nobody knows. That could be the opening line to a hill country blues song. For the people who worked there it is certainly the loss of paycheck and that’s a blues song no one wants. Mott’s was the name of the original company and as the plant is often referred to, was started in 1963. The plant has changed ownership several times over the decades. 

Despite recent issues such as rising water costs, issues with discharge water quality, the condition of the buildings, issues with the aerators in the city’s lagoons and the associated smells, there were plans as recently as last fall for the plant to re-invent itself through re-investment. 

The city finally had a plan in place that would supply water at above cost, for years Water Valley residents effectively subsidized the plant’s water. The idea of government subsidizing industry is not new and it happens all the time, and for very good reasons. But water rates below cost are not an approved method. That was recently corrected, and while the future didn’t seem bright for the plant, at least there was a glimmer and path to carry on.

What shut the plant down was not workforce or water cost and quality or local facility infrastructure, although those were all issues. Nothing local at all knocked the plant out, it was a two-fisted combination of issues well beyond local control, the loss of supplied “spent” hens and lack of a market for those processed chickens. You see much of what was coming out of the plant recently was going to China. And China, in retaliation for Trump Administration tariffs, stopped buying many American agriculture products. 

Here’s a quick listing of post World War II industry in Water Valley. The Rice-Stix plant started with a bang in the late 1940s and ended with a whisper in the late 1990s. Plans for the barrel-roofed building, after being idle for 20 years, are to come back as an education center. 

On the south edge of town, what was once Ram Tool became Holley Carburetors (I almost feel I need to explain what a carburetor is) to now the high-tech machining at BorgWarner. Don’t forget the home-grown success of Valley Tool.  

Back to now Mott’s. What will become of the buildings and space, I have no idea. Hopefully it will be positive. Hopefully those who worked there will find jobs. 

I say this in review, as there is a relationship to local industry and the town’s prosperity. And to Main Street, the place where business has happened for over 150 years. 

There is a bright light coming soon and that is a job fair on Friday, February 15, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A whole host of local and regional employers will be looking to hire. The job fair will be at the First Baptist Church Activity Center at 801 N. Main Street. Bob Tyler, director of the Yalobusha County Economic Development District has been putting this together, in part as a local response to the plant closing. 

But as Bob told me, this idea has really grown fast, such that there will be a large variety of employers looking for people. There’s an ad in the paper about the Job Fair and who will be there – worth a look. These are solid jobs.

Two Mondays ago there were bright lights on the 200 block of North Main. John Bateman was shooting a short movie, producer Robbie Fisher was running around, and set guru Laura Cavett was making sure the place looked small town 1968 – which is easy to do. 

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