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Mississippi wage increases top national average

Mississippians are earning fatter paychecks, according to a new study. State workers received wage increases of approximately 4% in 2007, and that compares with the national average of 3.65%. Mississippi pay increases averaged 3.77%, up slightly from the projected 3.5%. The information was released by the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) from a survey conducted by Compensation Data-Mid South.

“This increase is pretty reflective of what we’ve been seeing and hearing from the business community,” said Blake Wilson, president and CEO of the MEC. “We have the highest employment in the state’s history right now. There are pockets of growth. People are getting hired and businesses have to compete.”

State wage increases are no surprise to Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA).

“It is the strategy of this administration and MDA to not only create jobs, but to create high-paying jobs,” he said. “A good example of this would be projects such as SeverCorr who is paying, on average, $88,000 annually. This news doesn’t surprise us as salaries in Mississippi have increased significantly over the last four years.”

Wilson said a separate poll shows business confidence is riding high as huge projects, such as those recently announced in Tupelo and Columbus, continue to locate in the Magnolia State. If perception is reality, he foresees a continuing trend of growth.

“The jobs for the new companies in Tupelo and Columbus are coming, and they are high-paying jobs,” he said. “That means we will see those wage numbers growing along with aviation jobs and the automotive supplier impact. The Coast numbers will continue to grow, too.”

The survey reveals that Mississippi is tied with North Carolina. “We are competing with them in income growth, and that is a huge positive,” Wilson said. “It will make it easier to attract more jobs.”

In this and other studies, Mississippi is compared with 11 states that include Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas. Georgia is currently at the bottom of the list in wage increases, a fact that surprised Wilson. Oklahoma is number one, which he feels is due to the booming price of oil.

In Mississippi, financial services are leading the way with wage increases with a 4.3% increase. The lowest, 3.16%, is with distribution and warehouse companies that Wilson points out do not have high employment. The Jackson/Central Mississippi area, where there is a lot of service sector growth, had the highest increase at 3.93%.

“It makes sense for financial services — banks, insurance, real estate — to have the biggest increase. The hurricane recovery is strong, and there’s a lot of money pouring in,” he said. “I wish this growth could be in every section of the state.”

Employers taking the survey were asked to list their number-one challenge. Worker shortages were listed by 40% as their biggest problem. That was followed by foreign competition at a mere 5.6%.

“There are worker shortages all over. It’s a huge challenge,” Wilson said. “Education and workforce training is the answer. We will be going to the Legislature in the next session with plans to help alleviate this problem. With an emphasis on workforce training, we can create a more qualified workforce to fill the high-quality, high-paying jobs that are being created through the tremendous economic development that is taking place in Mississippi.”

He commended the Mississippi Department of Employment Security for its increased efforts in screening and hiring workers. It is very involved with SeverCorr hiring and will also be involved with Toyota.

Other findings of the employer survey revealed that payroll budgets for 2007 rose an average of 3.77% with projected increases for 2008 averaging 3.69%.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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