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MEC tour highlights development priorities

Mississippi Economic Council President and CEO Blake Wilsondiscussed a need to eliminate the state’s inventory taxes andboosting economic development while also calling for continuedemphasis on education during the MEC Marathon Tour’s stop inBrookhaven Wednesday.

“Things are a challenge right now,” said Wilson as he spoke to alarge group at Rusty’s Family Restaurant. “You’ve got to positionyourself to play the game.”

Wilson outlined some of the MEC’s priorities, many of whichcentered around education, but also include securities laws andeventually eliminating inventory taxes in Mississippi. Only 11other states in the country have an inventory tax, Wilson said.

“It puts us at a serious disadvantage. It’s a major problem,”said Wilson, while also acknowledging the need to replace moneylost by inventory tax elimination with some other form ofrevenue.

In other areas, the Mississippi Scholars program is becoming asuccess, Wilson said.

“Brookhaven and Lincoln County are one of the leading areas, ifnot the leading area, in getting the community involved in thisprogram,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the program started in two school districts and nowis helping students across the state invest themselves in a morerigorous curriculum. And better preparing students, he said, is awin-win situation.

“The students win because they are able to compete forhigher-paying jobs,” he said. “And Mississippi companies winbecause they get more qualified workers.”

Wilson also discussed Momentum Mississippi, a program aimed atproviding opportunities for continuous and significant improvementsin the standard of living across all regions of the state.

MEC proposals aim to boost the standard of living by doingthings such as maximizing high school graduates, better preparingchildren for school, training and retaining better teachers andstrengthening Mississippi’s business image and legalcompetitiveness.

“Poverty is the single greatest indicator of a child’s academicpotential,” Wilson said, explaining that children inpoverty-stricken areas are not as likely to have extensivevocabularies or be as academically prepared for the early years ofschool as children in more affluent areas.

“As a state we must find a way to provide all children with astrong foundation for learning,” he said. “Mississippi will neverbe the Mississippi we know it can be until we’ve invested fully inour children’s education.”

Other ways MEC will be asking legislators to invest in theQuality Education Act, Wilson said, are through full funding of theMississippi Adequate Education Program, moving from elected toappointed school superintendents, consolidation in some areas ofschool activities, and providing additional funding for retentionprograms like the “On the Bus” program, aimed at cutting thedropout rate in half by 2013.

MEC is also asking legislators to consider extending retirementrequirements for teachers in order to keep quality teachers inpublic schools longer while raising starting teacher pay to attractmore qualified teachers into the profession.

“We have to deal with this problem that teachers can retire,sometimes at 47 years old, and the public school system losesthem,” he said. “They draw their retirement and go out of state orto a private academy.”

Wilson reminded the group that while the MEC is asking for thelegislature’s help, much of the work they do is through privatedonations as well.

“We can make a difference, but it doesn’t always have to bethrough state funding,” he said. “We also have an individualresponsibility to improve our quality of life.”