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Area citizens share ideas for state betterment

Citizens and officials from communities across Southwest Mississippi accepted Speaker of the House Philip Gunn’s invitation Friday and gathered in Brookhaven to share their ideas on state government and what areas could stand some improvement.

     The turnout was a good sign for this region as Gunn wrapped up his nine-stop “ideas tour” of the state.

     As was mentioned at Friday’s meeting, it was important for Southwest Mississippi to have a meeting on the tour because, unfortunately, this area is too often lumped in with Jackson in consideration of needs. From population to economic development to just about any aspect imaginable, Southwest Mississippi and the capital city area are vastly different.

     Indeed, one difference is that Southwest Mississippi is the only portion of the state currently involved in oil exploration endeavors potentially worth billions. Gunn heard suggestions Friday on the need for Mississippi to be more like Louisiana in terms of permitting, licensing and other ways to encourage development.

     Other discussion at Friday’s session focused on promoting development of the region’s agricultural resources and related agritourism industry.

     Regarding development, Gunn commented after the meeting that economic development concerns played a more central role in the meeting here than at meetings in other parts of the state.

     The primary reason, no doubt, is that Southwest Mississippi has been lagging behind many of the other parts of the state in its ability to score a Nissan or Toyota plant or some other major economic development win. Regional leaders remain united in their efforts to attract such projects, but a little more attention from the state level would certainly be beneficial – as was pointed out by area citizens Friday.

     Other themes mentioned here did echo those of citizens across the state.

     Education support and the pros and cons of charter schools were among these recurring issues. Despite failing to materialize from this year’s legislative session, charter school seem to be a coming reality, and speakers Friday wanted to ensure they are governed appropriately and that all schools are treated fairly when charter schools are implemented.

     Health care, and particularly Medicaid expansion, has been another hot topic for some time. Friday was no exception.

     While Gunn and his fellow Republican state leaders have been resistant to Medicaid expansion due to budget concerns, he was urged Friday to consider the impact that not expanding would have on hospitals across the state and the patients they serve. The Medicaid expansion issue is a costly and complex one that will be hotly debated during the 2013 legislative session.

     There are many issues that affect all Mississippians, but some issues are more important to specific areas of the state. Friday’s stop allowed one state leader to hear firsthand what was on the minds of those in Southwest Mississippi.