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Package provides state with `new tools for economic development`

Session sees few surprises

JACKSON — Even though the local option sales tax option in Gov. Ronnie Musgrove’s Advantage Mississippi Initiative was quickly rejected by legislators, the House and Senate worked diligently to reach a compromise satisfactory to all parties involved during last week’s special session on economic development.

“The plan was tweaked and the local option sales tax was taken out early, but other than minor changes in conference, the package provided us with new tools for economic development,” said Mitch Stennett, president of Economic Development Authority in Jones County, who attended the special session. “Overall, it’s a definite asset to our state to use the incentives and financial options in the package.”

Steve Corbitt, executive director of the Mississippi Forestry Association, attended the special session and several pre-session meetings, where legislators pored over the 118 pages of legislation.

“By the start of the session, observers already had a feel for what would make the cut and what wouldn’t,” he said. “It was wise to watch a lot of code sections in the bill and make sure nobody made changes that weren’t intended and to check on a couple of sections on natural resources to see what potential might be there for some of our members. Also, the House had brought a couple of sections in the bill into the picture that the Senate hadn’t talked about at the end of the week.”

Even before the special session was underway, Musgrove began making plans for the Advantage Mississippi Initiative (AMI) immediately after he unveiled the new economic development plan on Aug. 7. The next day, as promised in his outline, Musgrove appointed two special task forces.

The e-government commission, established by executive order No. 837, was created to advise the governor on technology infrastructure, propose recommendations to ensure increased efficiency and effectiveness of electronic government and draft a report outlining the implementation of electronic government by Dec. 1.

“Mississippi is exploring the options of developing technology clusters and the growing dot-com industry,” Musgrove said. “As the environment in which we conduct business changes, so must the environment in which we conduct the people’s business.”

The 32-member task force will be co-chaired by Gary Anderson, executive director of the State Department of Finance and Administration, and David Litchliter, executive director of Information Technology Services.

The same day, the governor appointed 23 members, including Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, and Dr. Richard Thompson, the state superintendent of education, Janita Stewart, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, and Doug Horne of Knoxville, Tenn., a foreign national representative, to a special task force for economic development planning. The assignment: to prepare and maintain a long range plan for the economic development of the state.

“By streamlining the functions of the Long-Range Planning Office at the University Research Center and cultivating a closer working relationship with the state’s highest development authority, this planning task force can be better utilized and monitor the state’s physical, human and capital resources,” Musgrove explained.

With the exception of a couple of provisions, Harry Martin, president emeritus of the Community Development Foundation in Tupelo, said the overall plan was good, particularly including the state economic development department’s name change.

“The renaming of the agency was very, very much needed,” he said. “It makes it simpler, and makes a better statement of what it’ s really supposed to be.”

Martin didn’t agree with subsidizing underperforming counties at the expense of others.

“It penalizes the richer counties, which aren’t really richer, they just have people who have worked harder in economic development,” he said. “Even the per capita income in our best counties is not really up to the national level, so if you start penalizing those who are not yet there, or start putting a handicap on them, then it makes it tough.

“That’s the only negative I’ve seen. I’d like to see a level playing field for every business, industry and county in the state. All of the other provisions are basically a plus, especially the money that will be provided for technical training and the decision to channel workforce training money through community colleges. That’s all very good.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.


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