U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss) was in Ocean Springs Oct. 26 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Cingular Wireless Service Center. The new facility employs 700.
By LYNNE WILBANKS JETER
MBJ Contributing Writer
On September 11th, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) of Pascagoula was scheduled to talk to the Mississippi Business Journal about economic development and other business issues.
That interview, and countless other interviews, appointments and lives were put on hold when terrorists attacked New York City and Washington, D.C. Everyday business was suspended as President George W. Bush and Congress dealt with national security issues, and Americans mourned the loss of friends, family and fellow countrymen.
Six weeks later, Lott called to resume the interview: “We have a different challenge now, but we’ll get through this one too,” he said, referring to post-Sept. 11 issues. “But let’s talk about Mississippi.”
Mississippi Business Journal: How is Congress going to spur economic growth to stop the drain on manufacturing jobs and the slowdown in the economy in the U.S.?
Trent Lott: It’s very important for us to pursue some basic principles. First, anything we do should have an immediate impact. If we do anything in terms of tax cuts or spending, for example, that doesn’t have an immediate effect — if effects are felt six months or two years from now — they won’t do what we need them to do.
Second, we need to try to make sure that anything we do doesn’t have a long-term negative effect, such as doing something that would wind up forcing long-term interest rates to go up.
Third, and most important, we need to make sure it is simulative growth. If we invest a dollar, we need more than a dollar in return or it’s not a good deal. If we can keep our focus on that, we can get some good things done.
Some of the things we’re talking about:
• Accelerating depreciation for business and industry. That would help a lot of companies be able to write off equipment and other capital purchases faster. It might help them put in a computer system or buy modern equipment faster.
• Expensing. Allowing expenses to be deducted at a higher percentage would be very helpful.
• Accelerating rate cuts so that individuals could get rate cuts faster. Some of those don’t kick in until 2004 or 2006. If the rate cuts could apply to individuals immediately, it would obviously have an immediate impact.
MBJ: In light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is there enough support now among your colleagues in Congress to further develop our own oil reserves?
TL: There is a growing recognition that we need a national energy policy, and a part of that needs to be greater production of oil, natural gas and coal. We need to look at safe nuclear power and alternative fuels. We need to provide incentives to get marginal wells in operation. We need people to conserve more by weatherizing their home or business.
There has been some improvement in support by the American people and, therefore, more support in the Senate for developing more energy resources. We believe we have the votes now in the Senate, with perhaps as many as 54 or 55 senators, that would vote to open up ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) in Alaska so that we could get access to that oil, and so we could get greater usage from the Gulf of Mexico.
(Created in 1980, ANWR is a 19.6-million acre wildlife sanctuary. The 1980 law that created the refuge also closed 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain to gas and oil exploration unless specifically authorized by Congress.)
MBJ: This summer, you mentioned in talks around Mississippi that we should think bigger, in terms of economic development, and hinted at automotive companies looking at the state. Can you expound on that?
TL: Economic development in Mississippi is critical. Thinking bigger is critical. We need to stop saying, ‘Oh, well, we can’t compete,’ whether it’s for a professional football team or for a major international automobile company. If Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky or Arkansas can do it, we can do it. It’s a state of mind.
We’ve made good progress in our economic development situation. I enjoyed working with (former MDA chief) J.C. Burns. I think he’s done a good job for Mississippi. Governor Musgrove, though, has brought in a new man. He sounds good on paper … so I wish him well.
To keep moving in the right direction, we need to have active economic development efforts at the state and local levels. We must assess our resources, find out who may be looking at sites and go get them. Mississippi needs to be proactive. Nobody’s going to come and say, ‘Oh, great, we’ve always wanted to come to Mississippi.’ We have to go to them and show them that Mississippi has natural resources, economic packages, available industrial sites, good water, rail, highway systems that we’re making better every day.
We’ve got good education systems around the state. They’re not as uniform as we’d like them to be, and not as good as they should be, but we’re working on that. We have a trainable workforce, and in many cases, a trained workforce. We need to continue to be supportive of agriculture in Mississippi. Obviously, it’s an important part of our past and future.
We have reason to believe that other companies are considering Mississippi as possible sites. We’re working on one right now, but I can’t talk about it. One of the sure ways to get knocked off a list is to talk about the fact that you’re meeting with company officials. We learned that by watching other people. That’s probably one of the reasons we got Nissan. We worked hard to get them, the state offered a good package, the governor and I worked with company officials, but we kept our mouths shut.
MBJ: In terms of economic development, what sectors of business and industry are the most promising?
TL: The international automotive industry is a good possibility. We need to make sure we are aggressive in pursuing small companies that would supply goods, services or equipment to Nissan, for instance.
We need to look at the high-tech area. In Jackson, we’ve got BellSouth, WorldCom, SkyTel and others. Cingular is putting a call center in Ocean Springs. We need to determine if there’s something more we can do in the communications area to encourage start-up companies or to bring in other companies.
I’ve been trying to see if we could get more in the aviation area. We’ve been able to bring more Lockheed Martin jobs to Mississippi and get Boeing to put subsidiaries in Mississippi.
One of the best ways to spur economic development across the board is to look at the major corporations in the world and ask, ‘Are they in Mississippi?’ If not, we need to ask ourselves if there’s something we could do to entice them to give us a look.
MBJ: How will Mississippi farmers benefit from permanently normalizing trade relations with China?
TL: American agriculture needs more markets. Generally speaking, we can produce a lot more than American people can eat or need for fiber and we’ve got to get it into the world market.
When we passed the Freedom to Farm agriculture bill in the 1990s, we were planning to have increased markets opening around the world — in Asia, South America, and so forth. Not only did they not increase, they went down because of a world glut in agriculture and because we didn’t have open and free trade in a lot of areas. Clearly, a
griculture is one of the sectors of our economy, especially in Mississippi, that could benefit positively from normal trade relations with China and other parts of the world. We export a lot of our cotton to Central and South America. We ought to be able to export some of our food that we produce in Mississippi to China.
MBJ: What changes would you like to see in the nation’s immigration policy?