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Community members polled on issues facing state

NATCHEZ — The Mississippi Economic Council, the State Chamber of Commerce, stopped in Natchez Tuesday on their 2020 MEC Tour in 18 Mississippi cities during which they polled business and elected leaders on a broad range of issues facing the state, including those pertaining to education, healthcare, jobs, workforce and infrastructure.

MEC President and CEO Scott Waller said the goal of Tuesday’s presentation and the 2020 MEC Tour sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi was to give the statewide business community a meaningful voice in the state capitol during this legislative session.

More than 50 people joined in on Tuesday’s questionnaire at the Hotel Vue Tuesday and 96% of those who attended said Mississippi casts a negative image to the rest of the nation.

According to polling results posted by MEC, many of those who were asked the same questions about Mississippi in Corinth, Moss Point, Horn Lake, Meridian, Hattiesburg, West Point, Tupelo, Indianola and Cleveland felt the same way.

“I found out that my answers were pretty much in line with what everyone else was saying, which is too bad because there was quite a bit of negativity in those answers,” local tour guide, Karla Brown, said. “How could Mississippi improve? We have room, but we also are doing better. I guess what surprised me the most is what we feel people outside of Mississippi think of us, which isn’t very good. We have a lot to offer. I’m in tourism, so I know we have quite a bit of good things going for us.”

Other questions Waller asked were whether Tuesday’s attendees believed Mississippi was losing its skilled workers to other states, whether they believe the legislature’s allocation toward transportation and infrastructure in 2018 will be enough to fill the needs and do they think community colleges or kindergarten through 12th-grade school systems adequately prepare students for entering the workforce.

Most attendees answered “no” to almost all of those questions.

“One of the things we have to think about is what we are as a state?” Waller said. “… More times than or not, that image that you think about is always on the negative side.”

Waller said there are issues pertaining to infrastructure, healthcare and education that MEC hoped to address with state legislature and gathered supporting data from communities to back those issues.

Waller said a report MEC compiled in conjunction with Mississippi State University and the University of Southern Mississippi in December 2015 stated that Mississippi would need a minimum of $375 million annually to begin addressing the state’s maintenance and repair needs on roads and bridges.

“The legislation got us about halfway there,” Waller said. “… There needs to be something in place that will get us not just through the next 10 years but the next 20 to 25 years. … We as an organization are going to continue to work on that … and the fact that you all support that long term approach really helps us to get to where we need to be.”

Waller said there are also several positive things that Mississippi could and should capitalize on, including strong values, community pride, low cost of living and a continuous improvement in education.

“Part of what we have to do to make our economy grow is we have to be the ones telling our story,” Waller said. “… There are good things happening here. … We have to tell that story and not let others tell the negative story. In doing that, we can make a big difference.”