Last week, the Mississippi Business Journal asked the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor about the most pressing issues for small businesses and what steps small business owners and state government could do together to strengthen ties in Mississippi.
They had plenty to say.
Democratic candidate for governor, Lt. Governor Ronnie Musgrove said more people started new businesses in Mississippi last year than anywhere else in the nation.
“Mississippi has a tremendous business climate for small and up-start companies,” Musgrove said. “The economy is so strong that unemployment is at a 25-year low. Many new businesses are having trouble finding qualified employees to make their companies continue to grow and prosper. We need to continue our investment in workforce training to develop a pool of qualified talent where businesses can draw employees. We need to work with the community college system to implement workforce training as part of their regular curriculum. By continuing to train and develop more Mississippians, we support the homegrown businesses we have, and we go a long way toward attracting new businesses.”
Creating a position in the next administration that is completely focused on supporting small businesses is one way state government can assist small businesses, Musgrove said.
“I want to create governor’s councils made up of business leaders and economists developing strategies on how we as state government can continue to help new and small businesses,” he said. “We need someone in the governor’s office looking out for the rights of small businesses, including their interests in the budgeting process and helping to improve the business climate, so fledgling enterprises can continue to grow and thrive in Mississippi. We need to expand the Mississippi Rural Economic Development Assistance Program and the Small Enterprise Development Program. I also want to expand public-private partnerships to foster expansion of Mississippi businesses of all sizes and create more jobs.”
A detailed plan is needed for small business development, Musgrove said.
“The saying goes, ‘if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail,’” he said. “We need to have a detailed plan for small business development. Sound bites and snippets designed to make us feel good won’t create real jobs or expand any businesses. Saying we need a ‘change of attitude’ just won’t cut it. Only concrete plans to expand and develop our workforce, improve infrastructure and lower taxes will actually help Mississippi businesses. I want to develop region-specific strategies to create new jobs throughout the state. We need to put the safety nets back in place that save our farmers from financial ruin in the event of crop failure or price collapse. We must also decide on an industry where we have a natural advantage and put into place a strategy to bring those companies here to Mississippi.”
Former Congressman and the Republican candidate for governor, Mike Parker said the most important element for small business in Mississippi is to keep the economy headed in the right direction.
“A business background is an important asset for your next governor if we’re going to keep our economy headed in the right direction,” Parker said. “Rosemary and I have been building small businesses for the past 30 years. And as a congressman, I helped bring thousands of new jobs to Mississippi. Let’s not turn our economy back over to politicians who don’t understand how business works. They turn government into an adversary of business. I want to turn it into a partner.”
Continuing the “Mississippi Miracle” is the main job of the next governor, Parker said.
“Mississippi has come a long way in the last seven and a half years,” he said. “I have yet to see anyone that wants to turn back the clock. As governor, I want to expand our thinking about economic development. Currently, over 95% of our economic dollars go to attracting new businesses to Mississippi. That is good. However, the vast majority of new jobs are created by local businesses. I want state agencies to be a resource and a catalyst for business growth and expansion. If elected governor, I want every business in Mississippi to be able to view state government as a partner rather than an adversary in economic development.”
A vision for the future of small business in Mississippi is one reason Parker decided to run for governor, he said.
Amy Tuck, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, said state-imposed regulations are pressing issues for small business owners.
“Regulations have steadily increased for small businesses,” she said. “It has become tougher and tougher to successfully operate a small business. As lieutenant governor, I will propose the creation of a regional response center in each congressional district. The purpose of these centers will be to reduce the burden on small business owners of meeting regulatory requirements. My idea is basically one-stop shopping for small business owners. For example, if you need to file articles of incorporation and/or obtain a permit from a state agency, you can do both of these things at the same place. Regional response centers would provide a real service to small business owners and allow them to use their time more efficiently.”
Networking is vitally important to small businesses, Tuck said.
“I think small business owners should come together more in forums and seminars. While time is usually a luxury for a small business owner, I think time spent with other small business owners could prove beneficial. In addition, trade shows and business publications can enhance networking opportunities. While we have trade shows and business publications, I think more can and should be done.”
In addition to state-supported programs to help small business, more can be done by providing regional forums for small business owners, Tuck said.
“Such forums could provide wonderful opportunities for networking and learning about the latest business trends,” she said. “This could be done in a fiscally responsible manner.”
Small businesses are the backbone of Mississippi’s economy, Tuck said.
“I grew up in my family’s country store in rural Oktibbeha County,” she said. “I understand the value of hard work and business ownership. As lieutenant governor, I will support legislation and programs that are beneficial to small business owners. I also believe that we should provide the same economic incentives for our existing businesses to expand as we do for new ones to be established.”
Bill Hawks, state senator and the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, said the most important thing we can do for small business is to eliminate the business personal property tax while making municipalities, school and counties whole.
“Taxing inventory, furniture and equipment puts Mississippi’s businesses at a disadvantage and hampers job growth,” Hawks said.
Numerous groups do a great job helping small businesses network, Hawks said.
“Local chambers of commerce and the Mississippi Economic Council do an excellent job of helping local businesses network and giving them a voice in the state Legislature,” he said. “Aside from these groups open to all small business, industry specific groups do great jobs representing the more specific needs of the member groups.”
Small business is the backbone of our economy in Mississippi, Hawks said.
“State government should work more closely with small business in the state. Regulatory agencies n
eed to work with small businesses to create a more business-friendly e
nvironment in state government,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.