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MDA points out that workforce ranking rates Mississippi among the nation

Mississippi makes big splash in national poll

When it comes to national rankings, Mississippi has historically fared poorly. So, it was a pleasant surprise when a recent nationwide business poll showed that the Magnolia State made the biggest gain of any state in the nation.

Chief Executive magazine’s 2009 “Best & Worst States,” based on responses from 543 CEOs, ranked Mississippi 30th, up 15 spots from the previous ranking. Only Pennsylvania, which moved up 10 spots, showed a double-digit jump.

The fifth-annual survey was based on a range of issues, from quality of life to access to capital.

Mississippi ranked highest in quality of workforce, coming in at 15th. Gray Swoope, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, was thrilled by that figure, and believes the state’s hard work in job training is paying off.

“The last five years, we have worked to transition to not just attracting any jobs, but higher-paying, higher-skilled jobs,” Swoope said. “We want our workforce to be globally competitive, and it seems our efforts are having an impact.”

All of the state’s rankings were not so great. Once again, the Magnolia State ranked dead last in education. The Mississippi Department of Education recently released numbers that showed Mississippi’s high school graduation rate fell in 2008 compared to 2007. However, the dropout rate, which has been steadily climbing, held steady.

“The momentum for dropout prevention continues to build across the state as more school districts develop dropout prevention programs and partnerships are formed with the business sector and local communities,” said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Hank Bounds.

For the fourth consecutive year, CEOs ranked Texas as the best state. And, for the fourth straight year, California is on the bottom of the list. The magazine said that is a trend it has seen in its survey — states generally do not move up or down very much. And, the magazine said the recession is almost certainly going to have a negative effect on those states that rank at or near the bottom.

“Our survey, year-over-year, proves that those states with the worst records continue to practice the same policies that alienate businesses,” said J.P. Donlon, editor-in-chief of Chief Executive magazine. “As the nation’s economic problems continue to snowball and an increasing number of states experience budgetary problems, state governments ought to take a hard look at their taxation and unionization policies if they want to turn the page and attract new businesses and capital to their provinces.”

In light of the fact that states move relatively little on the magazine’s list, Mississippi’s 15-spot jump is even more impressive. Still, the state ranked 30th, and Swoope said he is not satisfied with that.

“If this was a football game, we just got a first down,” he said. “We’re getting there.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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