MEC crafting blueprint for state economic future

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, February 10, 2011

When the November elections are over and Mississippi’s newgovernment prepares to take its seats, elected leaders will have aneconomic blueprint to follow.

The Mississippi Economic Council’s Blueprint Mississippi 2011program is under way, with the state’s top economic adviserstraveling across the state to gather feedback from communities andtheir leaders on the economic direction Mississippi needs to go inthe future. The tour stopped in Brookhaven Wednesday, polling ajoint meeting of the Brookhaven Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs togauge the long-range economic concerns of the city, county andregion.

“We have to set very specific goals and metrics to measure them.What gets measured gets done,” said Dr. Hank Bounds, the state’scommissioner of Institutions of Higher Learning and MEC teammember. “This information will be the final product we put in thehands of the people who want to lead Mississippi.”

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MEC administered a series of questions to the joint meeting,allowing the almost 90 attendees to answer 11 questions gauging theeconomic conditions and needs of Brookhaven and SouthwestMississippi. The results will be compared against 11 other”blueprint” states Mississippi most often competes with – Alabama,Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina,Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

The responses were telling, with the first two questionsrevealing a gap between what is and what could be inMississippi.

Fifty-seven percent of the members believe Mississippi childrenwill be able to find a “good-paying” job in Mississippi, while 43percent believe the next generation will have to leave the state tofind high-paying employment.

Eighty percent believed Mississippi would be able to improve itscompetitive position in the U.S. to experience the same growthenjoyed by Southern boom states like Georgia and North Carolina,while 20 percent were not so confident.

“How do we close the gap there? That’s what BlueprintMississippi is all about,” said MEC President Blake Wilson.

The Blueprint Mississippi survey also asked about Mississippi’sposition compared to surrounding states in the field of jobcreation. Almost 68 percent rated the state as “moderatelycompetitive,” while 9 percent voted “very competitive.” Almost 22percent of the voters tagged the state as non-competitive.

Voters had more confidence in Southwest Mississippi’s regionalcompetitiveness, with 59 percent classifying the area as very ormoderately competitive. Still, 40 percent feel SouthwestMississippi is not competitive.

Regionalism is important to economic development, said HaleyFisackerly, president and chief executive officer of EntergyMississippi.

“When you’re recruiting someone from Japan, they don’t knowwhere Pike County ends and Lincoln County begins. They’re lookingat the region,” he said.

Viewing Mississippi as it stands today, 33 percent rated thestate as one that can’t escape a negative perception, while another33 percent view it as an emerging growth state. Twenty-five percentview the state as a low-cost, low-skill, low-wage state, and only10 percent saw it as the hot economic development location of theNew South.

Fifty-one percent of those polled think Mississippi will be anewly-emerging growth state in 10 years, while 26 percent think adecade’s passing will be necessary before the state becomes a hoteconomic development location.

If that growth comes to pass, 41 percent believe it will be fromthe state’s tried-and-true natural resources industry, in the formif timber, energy and agribusiness. The vision of Mississippi as anadvanced manufacturing state popped into the heads of 38 percent ofthose polled.

The numbers were similar on the question of SouthwestMississippi’s regional growth, with 48 percent seeing cultural,community and natural resources as the biggest economic driver forthe region and 30 percent placing their bets on advancedmanufacturing.

Using criteria like education and workforce quality, cultural,community and natural resources and shovel-ready sites, 54 percentbelieve the region is “fairly competitive and 35 percent see it as”very” competitive. Eleven percent see the region as “not so”competitive, but no one believed the region was “not at all”competitive.

Among those criteria, 34 percent believe the region’s cultural,community and natural resources are its most beneficial resources,while 23 percent believe the availability of shovel-readyindustrial sites stands strongest. The region’s workforce and levelof racial reconciliation drew only one vote and 1 percent each.

A trained workforce was viewed by 43 percent of respondents asthe region’s greatest area of need, while 23 percent saw educationas lacking.

A great deal of time in Wednesday’s meeting was spent oneducation. Bounds said the state is about 2,000 teachers short andproduces an average of 15,000 dropouts each year.

“In order to be competitive as a state, it’s pretty clear alllevels of education have to improve,” he said. “When you look atthe amount of money a student who drops out makes … you seethere’s a serious difference. It’s very, very difficult for them tohelp move our state along.”

More information on Blueprint Mississippi 2011 can be foundonline at