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As I See It

I would like to begin this week’s column with a heartfelt “thank you” to my many friends who recently donated more than $1,000 to the Muscular Dystrophy Association on my behalf so that I could get out of “jail.”

Due to this outpouring of generosity, I was able to avoid an extended confinement, though several of you offered to pay extra to see me “locked up” for hours, days, weeks.

Be ever mindful, what goes around, comes around!

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, each year the Muscular Dystrophy Association condemns a few vulnerable citizens to be arrested and held in custody until their friends donate sufficient bail money to get them out. I was rescued and was back on the job in short order. I sincerely appreciate the support of those donating to the cause and assure everyone that the money goes to help a very worthy cause (see letter to the editor).

What’s on your business mind?

Several months ago, the Mississippi Economic Council and the GodwinGroup conducted a survey to see how Mississippians were feeling about the economy, the state and the future. The sample included business leaders and a random sample of the citizenry in general.

I was interested in their findings. Rather than attempting to paraphrase the survey, following is a summary of the survey findings.

• Like the U.S., Mississippi has faced a downturn, however, business leaders are optimistic about the future.

• Both citizens and business leaders are positive about the direction Mississippi is heading and believe that the economy will turn-around within the next few years.

• Both citizens and business leaders believe Mississippi is a good place to live and do business.

• Citizens and business alike are very aware of the Nissan plant location and are optimistic about the new business it will bring.

• Both citizens and businesses believe Mississippi is better positioned than it was three years ago to land economic development projects.

• Businesses are acutely aware of infrastructure needs, particularly roads and school facilities.

• Business leaders continue to have difficulty finding and retaining quality employees — listing work skills, ethics and dependability as key problems.

The most profound finding of the survey was that there is agreement between citizens and business leaders on the two primary issues facing Mississippi: jobs and education. Business cited education and jobs as the most important issues. Citizens, understandably, listed jobs first, followed by education as the two primary issues. I find the consensus illustrated by the survey to be fascinating and encouraging.

Mississippi is benefitting from the commitment to economic development aggressively promoted by former Gov. Kirk Fordice and continued by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. After decades of inaction, Mississippi has an economic development strategy and is investing public funds to attract industry to our state. All of us will benefit from these efforts and the leadership of our current and former governor should be applauded.

Education is another issue. While agreeing that our teachers should be better paid and supporting the state’s efforts to raise their pay to the Southeastern average, I am also mindful that there are problems in education that more money alone will not solve.

Well over half of Mississippi’s tax revenue goes toward education. Public education is the largest bureaucracy in the state and bureaucracies are inherently inefficient. I confess to not knowing the solution to the problem that our high school graduates are not prepared to enter the workforce.

However, I do know that competition improves just about everything that it touches, and I think education would not be an exception.

Vouchers? School choice?

Good people respond to a challenge. Good people stagnate in a bureaucracy. We need to find a fair and equitable way to put some competition in the public education arena in order to give the education industry an opportunity to escape from the mind-numbing tedium of business-as-usual. How to accomplish this change? I honestly don’t know. But I do know that the majority of citizens and business leaders in our state recognize the need for change and our political leadership would be well served to give the subject some thought.

Remember, if the monopoly created by Microsoft was bad for America because it increased costs and stifled innovation, then monopoly in our public school system has the same effect.

Thought for the Moment — Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. — 1 Corinthians 6:9

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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