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Telecommunications reality in Jackson

MBJ Editorial

Anecdotal evidence abounds about the thriving telecommunications industry in Jackson and the enormous potential that exists for future growth and development of high-tech companies in the Mississippi.

What about those cold, hard facts? In a study released last week, we have them.

Touted by Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development (MDECD) executive director Jimmy Heidel as “…the most enlightening and comprehensive study of the telecommunications industry ever done in the Jackson metro area,” the findings reveal that the city has a window of opportunity to build a globally-competitive cluster of telecom firms that can prosper on its own merits for the long run. The problem? Now is the time to get it started.

The research, conducted by The Compass Group — a leading Silicon Valley consulting group — and commissioned by the MDECD, found that:

• Mississippi’s telecom sector is heavily concentrated in metro Jackson and is well balanced with three large “anchor tenants” (less than 1,000 employees), nine medium-sized firms (100-500 employees) and 12 smaller firms (less than 55 employees).

• The metro telecommunications workforce is about 7,000, assuming the 24 employers interviewed represent 85% of the total workforce.

• Employers report a severe gap between “applied skill” requirements and what they find available in the local labor market. Many believe the solution is industry working more closely with educational institutions.

Most important in the study’s revelations are the threats to the telecommunications business here: no collaborative vision or action; what happens when “native son” founders are no longer in power at SkyTel or MCI WorldCom; local government must create a hospitable environment for telecommunications companies. Perhaps the greatest challenge will be overcoming the lingering Ayers case. With no definitive resolution on the horizon, great ideas to train workers for high-tech jobs will continue to be only that — great ideas. And ideas won’t cut it.

The potential for profit is, indeed, outstanding if Mississippi business, education and government leaders work together and act upon the suggestions offered in The Compass Group’s study. We could have — truly — a significant telecommunications industry hub instead of simply thinking — erroneously — we already do.

But time is running out.

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