Manufacturers are thriving in Mississippi in spite of the challenges of adequate workforce training, rising costs of materials and a less-than-competitive tax structure. That’s the assessment of the Mississippi Manufacturers Association (MMA) president Jay Moon.
“We have some great homegrown companies and company branches that must have a competitive environment. What kinds of taxes do they pay in this state?” he said. “The governor is looking at our tax structure and we think that’s very good. The cost of doing business is important to our members.”
An example of Mississippi’s non-competitive challenges is the inventory tax, which only 12 states still have.
Running the gamut
The association’s 2,200 members represent manufacturers of metal fabrication, chemicals, ships, furniture, wood products, automobiles, textiles and highly-refined optical instruments. There are some very high-tech companies. The furniture industry that was a long-standing stalwart is still big although now challenged by competition from China. Textiles have lost many plants in recent years but some still exist in the state.
“Our membership runs the gamut. We’ve very fortunate that we don’t have all our eggs in one basket,” Moon said. “The automotive industry and its spin-off companies are growing and will continue to do so. We have a big future in that sector.”
The association president feels the state’s manufacturing has turned the corner and seeing its share of industries bouncing back, expanding and adding employees.
“That’s different from other states,” he said. “We’re adding technology and employees and that’s very positive for us. Certain sectors of manufacturing are gone and won’t come back but we’re gaining new ones, and the future looks bright for manufacturing in Mississippi.”
Four years ago, MMA became involved with campaigning for performance evaluation of state government. “We want to make sure we’re utilizing the state’s resources in the most effective way,” Moon said. “That’s important to the business community.”
The organization closely monitors legislation with the leadership of Mark Leggett, director of government affairs. He says the push for a performance review of state government is not just to find things to cut but to discover how things can be done in better ways. “We want the state to adopt new technology,” he said. “We’re trying to get government to do what industry is doing.”
At the Mississippi Capitol, Leggett says a large part of what he and MMA members do every year is protect the gains businesses have made in the state over the years.
“We made a lot of gains in the 1960s, such as the right to work law, employment at will law and some tax exemptions — things that make Mississippi a good place to do business — and we want to keep them,” he said.
MMA also looks every year to bring Mississippi more in line with other states regarding tax and environmental policies. This year, the group has been trying to secure tax exemptions on mandated pollution control equipment. The House and Senate passed different versions and the measure was in a conference committee at press time.
“We are also seeing national issues that are becoming part of state legislation in ways we haven’t seen before,” Leggett said. “It may be due to frustration with the U.S. Congress that groups are moving down to the state level to try to get them to do something.”
An example of that this year is an attempt to get a measure to penalize employers for hiring illegal aliens. “This attempt was in a way that would be very punitive to businesses and we fought that,” he said. “Another was an attempt to increase the minimum wage. Mississippi has never had a minimum wage and has always used the federal minimum wage. It’s a bad idea to index it to inflation and we fought that, too.”
The MMA staff follows input from member committees and the board of directors who work to develop legislative issues. There is also an e-mail system to notify members of any action needed, such as phone calls and letters to elected officials, during legislative sessions.
The association has 17 staff members and has been the voice of manufacturers in Mississippi for more than 50 years. Informative seminars, workshops, regular publications and the MMA Web site keep members throughout the state informed of issues important to manufacturing industries.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.