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Area leaders lay path for growth

McCOMB – Private sector business leaders have developed a planthey hope will lead the state’s economy forward.

Blueprint Mississippi was the focus of a regional gathering ofarea community and economic development officials Wednesday inMcComb. The meeting was one of more than 20 being held to promotethe plan around the state.

“This is the foundation upon which we will try to build afuture,” said Mississippi Economic Council President BlakeWilson.

The plan identifies a variety of goals, recommendations andaccountability measures designed to raise Mississippi’s standing inthe Southeast and the rest of the country.

The blueprint was developed following an earlier series ofMississippi Milepost meetings with business and community officialsto identify challenges facing the state. Those included tort reformefforts, improving education, economic development and fiscalpolicy measures.

“We’re making progress in each of these areas,” Wilson said.

Wilson cited tort reform measures passed during recent specialsessions, improving test scores due to new accountability standardsand economic development efforts to streamline the state’s workforce training programs through community colleges.

Among Blueprint Mississippi’s goals are establishing asustainable economic development vision, better preparing childrenfor school, training and retaining teachers, diversifying andimproving the state’s economic base and strengthening physicalinfrastructure. Improving Mississippi’s image, both among thoseinside and outside the state, is a key element of the plan, Wilsonsaid.

“Every state has its own unique set of challenges,” Wilson said.”It’s a matter of how you look at things.”

One recommendation Wilson mentioned was continuing to seek newbusiness and industry, but also to help existing companies increasetechnology to retain jobs.

“We’ve got to change the way we recognize economic success,”Wilson said.

In the area of education, recommendations include emphasizingthe link between education and employment. Wilson touted theimportance of public education.

“We’re a public school-driven state,” Wilson said. “If ourpublic schools are good, it helps the private schools. It all worksin concert.”

Several meeting participants Wednesday commented on the plan andits potential for the state. They indicated work is needed toimprove the state’s image.

“We have a lot of good things happening,” said Brookhaven MayorBob Massengill. “We need to get our story out.”

Bank of Brookhaven President Bill Sones, one of the meeting’ssponsors, agreed. He said addressing all of the goals andrecommendations is important, but image is one of the toppriorities.

“Mississippi is America’s best-kept secret,” Sones said. “Wejust need to find a way to tell Mississippi’s story to the rest ofthe world.”