distinct

Let’s hold our chins up high, Mississippi

Published 12:08am Sunday, January 26, 2014

Many other states seem to treat the state of Mississippi as the pudgy, nerdy kid, an easy target for good-natured — or sometimes not-so-good-natured — ribbing.

Of course, unlike innocent, nerdy youth, Mississippi does, in fact, bring much of the criticism on itself. Or at the very least, we seem to do little to combat it.

To most of us who were born and reared here, the criticism can be a bit of a broken record. For the majority of my adult life, our state has been at the bottom of every “good” list and at the top of all the “bad” ones.

Occasionally, Mississippi may jockey around with Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia for the title of worst in some categories, but Mississippi is consistently at the wrong end of most national measuring sticks.

Interestingly, though, for those of us who live here, things are rarely as bad as they may seem. Maybe the sweet tea and fried chicken clouds our judgment a bit.

As a son of Mississippi, I get my hackles up a bit when someone from the outside begins to run my home state down, though it happens so often it’s easy to keep my frustration invisible.

So my ears were filled with great delight last week as Mississippi Economic Council President and CEO Blake Wilson began speaking to members of the Natchez Rotary Club.

Wilson’s main mission was to talk about the MEC’s Blueprint Mississippi research that looks at how Mississippi compares with 11 other states and to work on mapping out a plan to make Mississippi more competitive economically.

But it was a few comments that Wilson made, almost as an aside, that made me sit up in my chair a little straighter.

Wilson told the group of Natchez area businessmen and businesswomen to, effectively, hold their chins up and be proud of Mississippi.

Mississippi, Wilson said, pointing to a brochure created by the Mississippi Development Authority, is in the top five states in the country for overall cost of doing business. We’re No. 3 for having competitive labor costs in the country, and Mississippi is the fifth-best state for entrepreneurs.

But that’s not all the state’s good news.

Energy costs in the Magnolia State are 20-percent below the national average.

Interestingly, Mississippi is accessible within one day’s travel by more than half the United States.

Cheap energy, low-cost labor and an environment that fosters entrepreneurs all seem like factors that would mean the state’s economy would be booming, right?

The nagging perception that Mississippi is among the worst places in the country is a difficult one to shake — not unlike being the unpopular student in class.

To transform ourselves from the self-deprecating nerd, we’ve got to change our own outlook on life.

The first challenge, of course, is that we — all Mississippians — must reject the hype and focus on our state’s best features.

Until we can collectively do that, Mississippi will struggle with recruiting more economic investments.

 

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.