Lawmakers Say Autos To Be Built In Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) -- A well financed company is close to choosing a shuttered north Louisiana site to start a new automobile manufacturing facility, creating up to 1,500 jobs, according to two elected officials from the region.

Rep. Jim Fannin would not identify the company but said the vehicles would be the company's first and would be built at a former Guide Corp. plant in Ouachita Parish. He said Gov. Bobby Jindal will make an announcement about the deal on Wednesday.

Monroe City Council member Arthur Gilmore said the project, which would build fuel-efficient vehicles, involves California venture capitalists Ray Lane and John Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, which has been extensively involved in "environmentally friendly" projects and companies. Neither Lane nor Doerr immediately responded to e-mails seeking comment.

Gilmore said the plant would be welcome in the Monroe area, which not only lost the Guide plant, but also saw State Farm Insurance move out a regional operations center.

"It's going to be a great stimulus for all this region," Gilmore said.

Stephen Moret, Jindal's economic development chief, confirmed that Louisiana is in the final stages of negotiations with a company to move into the plant, but declined to say which industry. Moret said he couldn't reveal details about the firm -- or the amount of public money at stake in the negotiations -- because of confidentiality agreements with the company.

"It's not quite a done deal yet. It's certainly very promising, and we're optimistic," Moret said.

Moret said the company is "relatively young" and "has a very unique business model and product, so business has developed confidentially."

Fannin, D-Jonesville, said Louisiana won the plant, beating out Mississippi, with incentives built with local funding and money from the state's economic development "megafund."

Dan Turner, a spokesman for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, said he didn't know anything about the project.

Last week, trucking company owner James Davison of Ruston said he was near a deal for the plant. But he, too, cited a confidentiality agreement. He told The News-Star of Monroe that the plan would require doubling the size of the 425,000-square-foot plant.

Auto plants have sprouted throughout the South in recent years, but in many competitions for them Louisiana came up on the short end. Mississippi snagged Nissan and Toyota plants, Mercedes Benz located in Alabama, South Carolina was chosen by BMW and GM picked Tennessee in which to build its Saturn models.

The choice of Monroe would give Louisiana its second plant along the Interstate 20 corridor that runs through the state's northern parishes. General Motors assembles the Hummer line and pickup trucks at a plant in Shreveport. The GM plant has been downsized from a recent high of 3,000 employees to about 800 as the manufacturer suffered financially. China's Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. is now buying the Hummer brand.

Associated Press writer Alan Sayre contributed to this report.

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