From game-changing industrial announcements and a crippling ice storm to the loss of longtime leaders and loved ones and municipal debates, 2021 provided several highs and just as many lows as Grenada County traversed through another year of COVID-19.
With hundreds of stories reported within the pages of The Grenada Star, the staff offers its Top 10 stories of 2021, which is led with a positive story that will change the landscape of the county for years to come.
No. 1: Milwaukee Tool locating in Grenada
Last April’s announcement that Milwaukee Tool will expand its footprint in Mississippi with the construction of an accessories manufacturing facility in the I-55 Business and Technology Park creating hundreds of new jobs tops stories from 2021.
Once constructed, the state-of-the-art building will be at least 600,000 square feet with 14 acres under roof, however, since its announcement, the building’s size has varied with talks of it being up to 1.2 million square feet. Initially, the Milwaukee Tool site will provide 800 new jobs for the area, but the manufacturer has committed to creating 400 more jobs to be added to any of its existing Mississippi locations in Greenwood, Jackson, Olive Branch or at the new Grenada location.
“When an industry leader such as Milwaukee Tool chooses to grow its footprint in Mississippi by building a new manufacturing facility – in addition to its existing facilities – it sends a strong message to the world that we take business seriously and work hard to ensure companies’ long-term success in our state,” Gov. Tate Reeves said.
Milwaukee Tool last expanded in Mississippi in February 2020, adding a new distribution center in Olive Branch. The company’s expansion in Grenada represents a $60 million corporate investment in advanced technology and manufacturing equipment to support the operation. Available jobs will include machine operators, technicians, warehousing/inventory, shipping/receiving, engineering and management roles.
“Our people and our culture have clearly made the difference in our growth and success,” Milwaukee Tool Group President Steve Richman said. “As we seek out new opportunities to attract, retain and recruit the best talent in the country, the State of Mississippi has continued to be a valued partner. We look forward to bringing more jobs to this state.”
Milwaukee Tool, headquartered in Brookfield, Wis., is a leading manufacturer of heavy-duty power tools, hand tools, storage and accessories for professional construction trades worldwide. In recent years, the company has invested significantly in its Greenwood, Jackson and Olive Branch manufacturing, distribution and operations facilities, creating hundreds of jobs for the regions’ workers.
Matthew Harrison, CEO of the Greater Grenada Partnership and president of the Grenada Chamber of Commerce, said that a project of this magnitude did not materialize overnight, having taken countless hours for more than a year to come to fruition.
“Long-term economic advancement is the core mission of the Greater Grenada Partnership,” he said. “As a world-renowned brand, the Milwaukee Tool company is set to bring quality careers and significant capital investment to Grenada County. Our office is proud to bring a project of this caliber to the citizens of Grenada County that will measurably move the economic needle in our community, region and state. No project of this size is ever done in a vacuum. For the last 16 months, we have worked tirelessly with all of our partners to make this project a reality. I personally want to thank the Grenada County Board of Supervisors, Gov. Reeves, Rep. Kevin Horan, Sen. Lydia Chassaniol and MDA for remaining dedicated to seeing Grenada County blossom. The great news, we are just getting started.”
Milwaukee Tool expects to complete construction of the Grenada facility in late 2022, and plans to fill the new jobs within eight years.
Kenosha, Wis.-based Riley Construction was chosen as the project’s general contractor in October. The announcement came a few weeks after Harrison announced that Kendig Keast Collaborative of Sugar Land, Texas, would serve as the GGP and Grenada County’s certified master planning firm, which is tasked to speak with stakeholders as they develop a step-by-step plan to answer each of the targeted needs in the community in anticipation of Milwaukee Tool and the growth that follows.
No. 2: County frozen solid
A mid-February 2021 ice storm left the entire county smothered in snow and ice as Arctic-like temperatures kept first responders and utility providers busy protecting and serving.
According to the National Weather Service in Jackson, more than 2.5 inches of snow and ice fell on Grenada County and according to one law enforcement officer, residents did extremely well under the conditions.
“Compared to ice storms in the past, I think the public did extremely well in Grenada,” Sheriff Rolando Fair said. “Last week was bad. Not 1994 or 1998 when people were losing lives.”
The majority of the calls that first responders responded to were traffic mishaps due to the snow and ice.
The Grenada School District and Kirk Academy also closed for a week due to adverse travel conditions and grocery stores were bombarded with customers leading up to the frigid storm.
Fortunately, the Grenada Water Department and electric providers dodged a bullet with only minimum issues.
No. 3: Longtime Judge Jimmy Tallant dies
Citizens in and around Grenada County mourned the passing of Judge Jimmy Tallant, who served seven terms as justice court judge for the county’s western district, who died on Jan. 5. He was 78.
While presiding on Thursday afternoons in justice court, Tallant was a larger than life figure on the bench being both stern and serious. Often times he offered jaw dropping advice to offenders.
“The next time you decide to get drunk, you go to bed,” Tallant told an offender facing public drunk charge in 2018.
Justice Court Clerk Judith Eldridge said the office will not be the same.
“We were a family,” Eldridge said. “We were more than co-workers. He’d provide us with lunch and breakfast and want to know about our families. He was a tough judge, but he had a heart.”
The Grenada County Board of Supervisors appointed Adam Kirk to fill Tallant’s seat until the November General Election when Vince Marascalco, the head of SAFE Security and a 15-year law enforcement veteran, easily outdistanced four opponents to capture the seat. Marascalco was sworn in later that month.
No. 4: Confederate Statue debate continues
The century-old Confederate monument, which is on display downtown has yet to be removed, but one Grenada City Councilman said in May that the slow process is due to studies and planning as to what to do with it when removed.
At the time, it had been eight months since the Grenada City Council voted 4-3 for the removal of the statue, which has stood on the Square since 1910. Since the vote, the statue has been covered with a tarp until it can be moved.
Ward 3 City Councilman Lewis Johnson, who introduced and made the motion for the removal, said a plan is in the making to have it removed.
“Right now, we’re in the process of coming up with a relocation site,” Johnson said. “One of the areas that we looked to place it was inside of Odd Fellow Cemetery, but that will not work.”
As 2022 was ushered in, the tarp-covered statue remains on the Downtown Square with no plans announced for its relocation.
No. 5: Hankins expands operations
Also in May 2021, more than 100 elected officials and stakeholders welcomed Gov. Reeves to Grenada for the official ribbon cutting for one of the state’s oldest lumber industries.
During the ribbon cutting ceremony held at the Regions Center, Reeves said Grenada County “is open for business” following the expansion of Hankins Lumber.
Hankins Lumber added a new sawmill operation, Hankins Timbers, to their existing business enterprise. The project is a $12.5 million corporate investment and over time will create 43 jobs.
“The Hankins family is a great asset to this neck of the woods,” Reeves said. “Economic development and jobs are my number one priority and it is a team sport. Hankins Lumber is the true definition of a Mississippi success story.”
In November 2020, Hankins Lumber announced that they were expanding its presence in Grenada County by locating Hankins Timbers at the former Louisiana Pacific site.
Hankins Lumber has been in operation in Grenada County for nearly 50 years. The company, which produces Southern Yellow Pine lumber products, employs 140 workers at its current facility. Hankins Timbers will use first and second pine thinning as opposed to mature logs. The facility will produce approximately 40 million board feet per year.
No. 6: Sports Complex construction begins
In early January 2021, images of the Sports Complex revealed just how the multi-field park will look once completed and the director of the project said it will put the City of Grenada in rare company.
The images of the new Sportsplex show two quadrants of fields both equipped with concession stands, offices and restrooms as well as storage in each of them. The complex will feature six athletic fields by the time it’s completed.
“This is going to be really nice,” Ramie Ford, project manager for the Sports Complex, said. “Since being hired, I’ve been a part of the process and I really like the designs.”
One of the designs shows the Sports Complex’s two entrances from Papermill Road. A closer look at the design shows the fields equipped with a covered concession area as well as shaded area for spectators.
Ford said that would compare the proposed complex to those in Oxford, Madison and Brandon.
“What separates us from other fields is that we’re new,” Ford said. “Another thing is that we have turf fields. Having those synthetic fields is a major thing. We’re talking a breezeway and even a conference room for umpires.”
In June, a month after initial bids were returned 10 percent higher than the budgeted $6 million, councilmembers awarded the lowest bidder, Double S, Inc. of Grenada, with the contract. The company’s bid amount was $5.76 million.
In 2018, Grenada citizens voted on a referendum to levy additional sales tax on hotels-motels, restaurants and bars. The tax was a total of two percent tax on food and alcohol at restaurants inside the city and a three percent total tax on motels.
No. 7: GSD excels academically
In October, the Mississippi Department of Education released results of the 2020-21 Academic Assessment Program, which measures student performance in public schools. It revealed that the Grenada School District excelled even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While as a state, school districts saw a drop in scores on average, the GSD managed to have proficiency averages above the state average in both ELA and mathematics.
According to Dr. Lyle Williams, the school District’s administrative academic officer, GSD ranked above the majority of the other districts in all of the areas tested. Williams said some highlights include the district’s rankings in math.
“The third grade achieved third place, fourth grade ranked 12th, while fifth grade achieved 11th place across the state,” Williams said. “Joining these achievements, eighth grade placed 18th, while our Algebra 1 students placed 14th across the state.”
Williams said MDE releases the percent of students who scored proficient and advanced.
“Even though the state percentages declined due to COVID and virtual instruction, the Grenada School District scored above the state average in all areas across 144 school districts,” Williams said.
In English, GSD third grade students ranked 14th in the state, 4th grade ranked 25th, while 5th grade ranked 20th in the state. According to the MAAP, English II students placed 27th among those in the state. In science, fifth graders achieved sixth place, and eighth grade ranked 22nd across the state. According to the assessment, Biology I and U.S. History students ranked 16th in the state.
At the start of the 2020-21 school year, the school district developed three options for students to attend classes, which were: traditional, hybrid and virtual. At the start of this year, the district removed the hybrid schedule and returned to in-person classes. Virtual classes were only allowed with principal approval.
“I am very proud of the hard work by our students, teachers, specialists, administrators, and parents through these difficult times,” Superintendent Dr. David Daigneault said. “The 2020-21 school year was a tough year, but a high level of effort was placed into the school year, so our students could continue to grow. GSD will continue to strive toward our mission of Education, Training, and Dreams.”
No. 8: City water woes continue
Customers on the City of Grenada’s water system drowned after receiving extremely high water bills, some exceeding $1,000, in August.
According to Grenada City Manager Stan Amos the incorrect invoicing was caused by an issue with the meter-reading software. He later added that the issue is currently being resolved and said that adjustments will be made.
“We had several of our customers experience bills that were higher than normal because of the glitch,” Amos said. “This was caused by that issue we had with our software and when the software came back up it pulled a lot of data from other months. As a result, the bills were issued out and were more than normal.”
When longtime Grenada resident Cora Ford-Ingram received her water bill the month before, she had only one word to describe it: “Ridiculous.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this and something has to be done about it,” Ford-Ingram said. “No one’s going tell me that I used this much water in July.”
Ford-Ingram said her July water bill exceeded $700 and she knew of other residents that received statements from the city just as high as her bill and even higher.
City officials were criticized for moving too slow in correcting the issue. Later, in the year, they were blasted at meetings and over social media for discolored water issues at residences and businesses, which continues today.
No. 9: COVID-19 issues continue
Early in 2021, cases of COVID-19 in Grenada County began rising again.
In mid-January, the total number of cases exceeded 2,000, while officials continued to urge the public to take caution. At the University of Mississippi Medical Center Grenada, the number of beds were limited and, according to CEO Dodie McElmurray, the ICU unit was full.
“We are full at this point, in fact, there aren’t any available ICU beds in the state,” McElmurray said. “Here at the hospital, we’re having to put ICU patients in our hospital rooms.”
Many deaths around the area were attributed to COVID-19, including that of longtime firefighter Deputy Chief Ricky Mitchell, a 22-year veteran with the Grenada Fire Department, who died on Aug. 4 following complications from COVID-19. He was 62.
Chief Ronnie Willis said the mood was somber at the fire department following Mitchell’s death.
“It’s sad around here,” he said. “Ricky was one of us – a firefighter; he was a family member.”
Grenada-area residents ages 75 and older were also administered first rounds of the COVID-19 vaccine until supplies ran out. Vaccinations continued throughout the year with local elected-officials leading the way being photographed being vaccinated.
The mask debate persisted for much of the first part of 2021 with the City Council continuing mandatory masking in public places. In July, the Council voted to amend the mask mandate to “recommending facial coverings,” not requiring them in businesses.
For the second consecutive year, Grenada’s annual Thunder on Water festival was also canceled due to the risks associated with COVID-19.
No. 10: WWII Hangar rots away
In June, the Grenada City Council announced that due to the rising cost of building materials, it will cost significantly more to the repair the Historic World War II Airfield Hangar at the Grenada Municipal Airport.
During a special-called meeting, the Council heard from City Manager Stan Amos about the Hangar situation and voted to table discussions on repairing its crumbling roof.
“I got a phone call from a local roofing company and I was informed that bids have gone up due to the rising cost of building material,” Amos told the city council.
According to Amos, the cost to repair the damaged hangar is much more than previously discussed when the city council first looked into fixing the old wooden structure.
“With that kind of damage to that facility, it’s going to be two to three times more than its original bid,” Amos said.
The 78-year-old hangar is one of three World War II era structures of its kind known to still be standing in Mississippi. The hangar was designated a Mississippi Landmark in 2012 by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Since that meeting, the back half of the hangar’s roof has completely collapsed. The Council unanimously tabled discussions regarding insurance funds during December’s meeting.