Musgrove touts new proposal

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 9, 2000

Expanding the state’s interests in the technology industry is a key focus of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s economic development plan.

&uot;We are on the cutting edge with any other state in what we do technologically,&uot; Musgrove said.

Although more than half of Musgrove’s plan does not require legislation, the governor has asked the state Legislature to meet in special session Aug. 28 to consider the plan.

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Key highlights of the plan include the reorganization and renaming of the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development; a public/private fund designed to give quick money to businesses interested in expanding into the state; and new tax incentives for business and industry.

The governor is not asking the Legislature this month for any new money for the plan, but he said he will include funding for it as a priority in next spring’s session.

&uot;The plan that we developed is a fact-based plan that is comprehensive and will help people in every county in Mississippi,&uot; Musgrove said.

Musgrove said he would like to see high-speed Internet access for all counties in Mississippi – even rural areas.

&uot;In today’s new economy it’s the highway of information,&uot; Musgrove said.

Musgrove said he began considering technology as a necessary component to economic development several years ago, when a Wall Street investment firm moved its operations to Pueblo, Colo., a small community that had the Internet capabilities to support the firm.

&uot;Technological capabilities are great equalizers for rural states,&uot;&160;Musgrove said. &uot;You have to have access to the Internet.&uot;

Convincing rural communities that technology – an industry which lacks smokestacks and often a tangible product – is a viable opportunity just requires showing them the direction of the economy, Musgrove said. &uot;It’s not me selling (it),&uot; he said. &uot;It’s the economy that’s telling them.&uot;

While Musgrove had answers for improving the state’s information highways, he declined to say how the state will find funding for concrete highways.

The state highway department has requested more bond funding to complete projects from the 1987 highway program – including the four-laning of&160;U.S. 61 north of Natchez.

&uot;This is the third or fourth time it’s happened,&uot; Musgrove said of the funding request. &uot;We have a lot of questions.

&uot;We expect a resolution this month. There are several alternatives to address this issue. We’re working on those right now.&uot;

Highlights of the economic plan include:

4Musgrove will ask the Legislature to rename the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development the Mississippi Development Authority. &uot;This is consistent with the changes we see nationwide and community-wide,&uot; Musgrove said.

Musgrove said the MDA will have to release a report card each year on its progress in creating jobs in the state.

The MDA will release to the Legislature and the public each year a report card updating its economic development efforts. The report card would be similar to one released annually by the state Department of Education detailing the performance of school districts.

4An &uot;Ace&uot; fund of public and private monies would be established to dole out quickly money needed for major business expansion in the state.

Currently, an employer seeking state aid must get legislative approval before major funding.

In addition to the Ace Fund, another program would be the Capital Access Fund, which would guarantee bank loans to small and minority business owners.

4Musgrove would bring economic development agency and community college officials together to coordinate federal dollars for workforce training.

&uot;You cannot talk about economic development without talking about education,&uot; Musgrove said.

The governor also wants to create a privately funded leadership training scholarship fund.

4Companies willing to pay 125 percent of the state’s average wage to workers will get a cash rebate of up to 5 percent of payroll.

&uot;This offers incentives to companies and a benefit to our people,&uot; Musgrove said.

4Counties which are at 200 percent of the state’s average employment can be considered, with the exception of school taxes, &uot;tax-free&uot; zones.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.