Business pulse taken

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2011

NATCHEZ — Natchez’s business leaders participated Wednesday in a statewide, business research project to help outline Mississippi’s economic future.

The Mississippi Economic Development Council’s 20-city Blueprint Mississippi 2011 Road Show stopped in Natchez, holding a joint meeting with the Rotary Club of Natchez.

The goal is simple, said MEC President & CEO Blake Wilson, ask the business leaders throughout the state for feedback on how Mississippi’s future should be shaped.

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The $1.25 million research project is funding entirely by the private sector, Wilson said.

When the final city is surveyed in early April, Wilson said approximately 3,000 Mississippi business leaders will be surveyed.

“This is how you move a state, folks,” he said. “We have these great interconnections in Mississippi, but the geography challenges us.

“By getting business people on a common agenda, we shrink those miles that separate us.”

MEC’s presentation included video messages from statewide business leaders, but the star of the show wasn’t recorded, but happening live before the audience’s own eyes.

In fact, the stars were actually the thoughts, moods and opinions of the very audience members who came to see the show.

Through an electronic voting system, each of the approximately 100 people at the meeting were asked a series of questions and allowed to anonymously vote on a series of questions. The results were instantly displayed on the screen.

“Blueprint Mississippi is a process by which we’re going out into the community and asking questions,” he said, adding the electronic voting is a key to the program’s success. “(Participants will) give you information that they wouldn’t normally stand up and say.

“This is a not some 2020 thing, this is what are we going to do in the next four years?” he said.

Of the Natchez business leaders in the room Wednesday, 58 percent said they believed Mississippi’s children would have to leave the state to find good-paying jobs.

When asked: “How would you rank your region of Mississippi when it comes to effectively creating jobs through economic development?” approximately 85 percent said the region was either “not so competitive” or “not at all competitive.”

The greatest area of need in the region, nearly 60 percent of participants reported, was education, with another 18 percent reporting the greatest need was a common, shared vision for the future.

Wilson said despite the local results that may, at first glance, seem overly negative, there were some positive results.

More than 75 percent said they believed Mississippi can improve its competitive position and experience the kind of growth states such as Georgia and North Carolina have experienced.

“I sensed a sense of, ‘Yeah, we can do this,’ in the room today,” he said. “I haven’t sensed that in Natchez before.”

Wilson pointed to the economic success Columbus has had in the last 10 years. Columbus, he said, was a place in which the community had previously struggled to find anything positive to say about their community.

Now they’re among the tops in the state, Wilson said, adding that Natchez could do the same.

“You’re already halfway down the road with the formation of Natchez Inc.,” he said. “Now you just have to work together and build on it.”