By Barry Dalton
The Plant Science Center facility on Hwy. 54 in Mexico currently has eight employees, including staff from the Vandalia area, working there for Tiger Soy Inc. Even so, the Mexico City Council has approved the scheduling of a public hearing to classify the center as a “failed project.”
“I hate to say it’s a failed project,” said City Council Member Chris Williams. “But I’m just going to say this. When I came in–I was first elected right after this came through–I didn’t see it [being successful] from the word go.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded a $1 million Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to Mexico in March 2010. The objective was to provide water, sanitary sewer and streets to the Plant Science Center with the stated goal of creating 50 jobs.
The grant stipulates that there must be a public hearing to evaluate the project.
“[T]hey consider this as a failed project because the first tenant didn’t make it,” said City Manager Bruce Slagle. “But since then, of course, we’ve had other tenants, and we still have the facility and the facility is operational, so we don’t necessarily consider it failed, but that’s what we have to classify it as to close out the paperwork.”
The Plant Science Center facility cost more than $10 million to construct and is owned jointly by the University of Missouri, Mexico and the Missouri Technology Corporation. The first company to occupy the center was Soy Labs LLC. which ceased operations in February 2014.
“They had a patent on a product, but it never got the production up to the level that it needed to, and they sold the patent and moved the operations out,” said Russell Runge, assistant city manager/economic development for the city.
Runge said that Mexico then worked out a deal with another startup company, called Ingenuity, that only lasted a couple of years.
“Their technology was to manufacture a man-made coal substitute with the hope that it would be used along with coal to lower emissions,” explained Runge during an exclusive interview with The Vandalia Leader. “But they could never manufacture enough of it to take it to that next level. So we cleaned it up and worked out a deal with Tiger Soy.”
Tiger Soy currently leases the facility at a rate of $7,250 per month, Runge said. The payments go into a fund for building maintenance, repairs and insurance.
Runge pointed out that even though it hasn’t met its original job creation goal, the facility is still an economic engine for the city and county with growth potential.
“It offers another avenue for farmers to be able to sell their soybeans,” Runge said. “They’re very good tenants to have, and we’re happy with them. They plan to get to three shifts. Hopefully, they continue to grow.”
Runge added that that by closing out the project, it allows Mexico to apply for CGBD grants for other community development projects
“This failed project classification will not jeopardize the city’s eligibility with the CGBD program,” confirmed Rita Jackson, Mexico’s community development director.