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Local business leaders talk important state issues

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson discusses the educational gains Mississippi has made in the past years despite some perceptions in and out of the state. Wilson discussed education, industry, transportation and other issues facing the state.
Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson discusses the educational gains Mississippi has made in the past years despite some perceptions in and out of the state. Wilson discussed education, industry, transportation and other issues facing the state.

NATCHEZ — Members of the local business community see increasing the educational achievement level of Mississippi as the state’s top priority.

That result came after approximately 100 people voted during a Natchez Rotary Club meeting Thursday that showcased the Mississippi Economic Council’s Blueprint Mississippi Pathway to Progress Tour.

MEC President Blake A. Wilson detailed to attendees the state’s economic situation and asked for feedback, through electronic voting, on education, health and other state-based issues.

Wilson said the results would be shared with state legislators.

The other top priorities indicated by the local business community were strengthening and expanding Mississippi’s economy and cultivating a more robust workforce in Mississippi.

Although Mississippi is performing poorly in many areas compared to other states, including education, Wilson said, Mississippians must show more backbone in boasting about the state’s many successes.

Wilson said Education Week ranked the state’s recently instituted school accountability model as an “A.”

He said the standards are necessary to slowly build sustainable education improvement.

Among local response, attendees were largely in favor of Common Core State Standards and fully funding education.

Common Core is an education initiative in the United States and adopted in Mississippi that details what kindergarten through 12th grade students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade.

Attendees also expressed support for developing a plan to address infrastructure maintenance funding for the state’s dilapidated roads and bridges.

BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi Sales Vice President Bryan Lagg spoke about the benefit of employers leading the charge for healthy living among their employees and how that relates to long-term economic development.

He suggested allowing time for exercise during the workday, providing healthy snacks or providing education on how to cook healthy meals in 30 minutes or less.

“These are long-term investments that eventually lead to a more productive staff that is at work more and performing at a higher level,” Lagg said.

Wilson closed the meeting by stressing MEC is operated entirely by volunteers and member dues and without government grants.

Its goal is to share the viewpoints of Mississippi’s business leaders with the state’s elected officials.

Those interested can sign up to be a stakeholder in the Blueprint Mississippi process and work on a task force or committee by logging onto msmec.com.