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Economic development team sport, Barbour says

SUMMIT – Haley Barbour Friday applauded area officials for theirteam approach to economic development and stressed the role ofeducation in creating jobs and improving communities.

“Economic development is a team sport,” the potentialgubernatorial candidate said during the Third Annual SouthwestMississippi Economic Symposium. “Anybody who sees it any other waymisses what can be done.”

Elected leaders, economic development directors and otherofficials from area counties attended Friday’s event at SouthwestMississippi Community College. Barbour cited a phrase from formerPresident Ronald Reagan, who said there are no limits to what canbe accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.

“I think we need to start thinking that way in economicdevelopment,” Barbour said.

Barbour said economic development has changed dramatically inrecent years and has become much more competitive. He saidcommunities are competing on a global scale in their efforts tocreate jobs and better communities.

“People that create jobs understand they are being courted, andthey expect preferences,” Barbour said.

Barbour said a trained work force is essential in economicdevelopment. The path to having that trained work force begins witheducation.

“Education is the number one economic development tool inMississippi and every other state in the United States,” Barboursaid.

Barbour said Mississippi has improved in its effort to combat animage of not having a strong educational system and not having aqualified work force. For continued improvement, Barbour said thestate must have strong direction from its leaders in stategovernment.

The economy is quickly changing from an industrial based economyto information based, Barbour said. He said the enhancement of thestate’s human capital “is more important now than at any time inhistory.”

“We better get serious about education,” Barbour said.

Barbour said the test of commitment to education should not behow much one is willing to spend. Rather, it should be whatproduces the best results as far as how much is learned and testscores.

“We really need to focus on some new ideas,” Barbour said.

Barbour said Mississippi should strive for and demandexcellence, and not merely average, in education.

“Average won’t get it in this economy. Average won’t get it inthis world,” Barbour said.

Speaking of the need for accountability, Barbour discussedPresident Bush’s “Leave No Child Behind” policy’s impact oneducation. Federal funding makes up 14 percent of Mississippi’seducation budget, which is twice the norm.

“It’s going to have a huge impact on schools that don’t meet thestandards,” Barbour said about reduced funding possibilities.

While touting a teamwork approach to economic development,Barbour said officials must realize that 80 percent of new jobcreation comes from businesses and industries that are alreadylocated in a community. He also stressed the importance of smallbusinesses in economic success of a community.

In a nod to the host school, Barbour called for more authorityand responsibilities to be given to community colleges.

“The community colleges in our state are a tremendous asset thatare under-utilized,” Barbour said.

Southwest, Copiah-Lincoln Community College and Alcorn StateUniversity sponsor the annual symposiums. Barbour also said thestate’s research universities like ASU need to be integrated moreinto economic development efforts.