JACKSON, MS — On a 900-acre site that will eventually host a tire factory employing up to 2,500 people, civil engineer Zach Morrow is the lone ranger for now. Hired Aug. 8, the 28-year-old is Continental AG's first employee at the plant it's building west of Clinton.
"I couldn't be any more proud to be not just a part of it, but to be employee No. 1," Morrow told The Associated Press.
The mammoth construction project is still embryonic. The German company hasn't held its official groundbreaking. Morrow doesn't have a desk because there's not even a construction trailer yet. He's working out of his truck.
But as a contractor cuts down trees and grubs out roots and stumps at the site, the Mississippi State University graduate is already working to make sure everything is done according to plan. That will still be his job description as the project transitions to earth-moving, foundation work, and construction.
"I will be the sole contact for Continental onsite for probably six months," Morrow said. Even after training at Continental sites in Germany and Slovakia, he admits that's a big job: "It's kind of a shell-shock thing at first."
Continental has already hired employee No. 2, an accountant. The company says it won't begin hiring most employees until late 2018, in advance of a late-2019 opening of the $1.45 billion plant. But jobs are what Mississippi hopes to get out of the deal in exchange for providing an estimated $650 million in grants and tax breaks over 30 years, according to an Associated Press analysis.
The state has said that wages for these jobs will average $40,000 a year.
The company has said it plans to make a mix of heavy truck and passenger vehicle tires at the plant, starting production in 2019 and expanding in phases over a decade or longer. The world's fourth-largest tire maker, Continental, is trying to capture a larger share of the worldwide market.
An Ackerman native, Morrow has worked in a series of construction jobs since he was 18. Most recently, he was the corporate director of maintenance and construction for a hospital management company. But Morrow said that company was struggling, and he feared he might have to leave the state to find work.
"I was fortunate to stumble across this opportunity," said Morrow, now moving to the Jackson area from Magee.
Morrow said he's scheduled to move into an engineering role inside the plant once construction is complete.
"I don't want to have to be looking for another job in a few years," Morrow said.
Many people have contacted Morrow, trying to get information on contracting or other work for Continental. He sends their requests to the Mississippi Development Authority website that collects contractor and employee inquiries.
"Everyone wants a piece of it, to be involved in any form or fashion they can," he said.