Expert offers economic advice

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 16, 2004

NATCHEZ &045; Good food and a stirring pep talk from a state economic development leader were highlights at Co-Lin’s annual industry appreciation luncheon.

Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, told the audience of about 150 business and government representatives that Mississippi has a challenge but is up to the task of creating new opportunities in the state.

Copiah-Lincoln Community College for the past six years has sponsored the luncheon &uot;to recognize how important all of you are to our community and to Co-Lin,&uot; Dr. Ronnie Nettles, dean of the Natchez campus, said. &uot;We like to think our success is based on all you do.&uot;

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Wilson said the state, with all its challenges, has an important secret weapon that can help it. With 75 percent of Mississippians never having lived anywhere else, the &uot;do you know so-and-so&uot; network has huge advantages in accomplishing goals.

&uot;We get frustrated at the lack of progress, at not moving ahead, but Mississippi has some terrific things going for it,&uot; Wilson said.

He named the giant Nissan manufacturing plant near Canton as an example, along with the furniture industry in north Mississippi and the shipbuilding and NASA operations on the Gulf Coast.

A state &045; and a community &045; can set goals and slowly go forward just as the Mississippi highway construction program did when a group of people decided in 1987 to do something about the state’s awful roads, he said.

&uot;In 1987, Mississippi was flat broke with the second from the worst highway system in the country,&uot; Wilson said.

&uot;A group of citizens came together to change this.&uot;

Working a few miles at a time and paying the price a few dollars at a time, but always going forward, the plan to create better highways has been one of the state’s great successes.

&uot;Incremental progress has been made day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and guess what? It works,&uot; Wilson said. Mississippi ranks No. 10 today in highway quality.

Another big success for the state has been in its community college network. The state created the system early on and has nurtured it.

&uot;We have the 13th best graduation rate for students with associate degrees. Why? Because we have about 35 sites around the state. We created a distribution channel for education for workforce training.&uot;

Opportunity is out there, Wilson said. Comparing the search for that opportunity to an ice hockey game, he cautioned the audience, &uot;you can’t chase the puck; you have to position yourself to field the puck.&uot;

State legislators should get on with the task of passing tort reform and funding education at all levels, he said.

&uot;Mississippi has the spirit of an emerging economy. This state is emerging as the next jewel in the crown of the South.&uot;