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How the Mississippi 100 is created

A look back at the Mississippi 100.

The year 1989 was full of significant business and economic news from the U.S. savings and loan crisis and Exxon-Valdez spill to the Time-Warner merger and fall of the Berlin Wall.

It was also the year a then little known list called the “Mississippi 100” would begin its annual run in the Mississippi Business Journal. The list ranked Mississippi’s top privately held companies by sales revenue and was a veritable who’s who tip sheet on the Magnolia State economy. After 20 years of reporting business news in Mississippi, it was time for MBJ to actually find out who the state’s leading companies were.

Mississippi 100 still runs 100 companies each year but some of the names have changed. The 1990 Mississippi 100 list includes retail chains and utilities like Jitney Jungle Stores, McRae’s and Mississippi Valley Gas. Those three Mississippi-based companies have since been acquired by larger companies like Winn-Dixie, Atmos Energy and Belk.

Look back at the 1999 list and you will find petroleum refiner Ergon Inc., Yates Construction and cotton manufacturer Staplcotn, three major companies in Mississippi that still rank in the top 10 of the Mississippi 100.

Picking the 100 has never been a simple snatch and grab. Mississippi 100 researcher Wally Northway spent most of the 1990s and early 2000s as a staff writer going through Dun & Bradstreet business reports and cold calling companies for their annual earnings numbers.

“It was different back then,” Northway said. “You couldn’t just go to Google or Yahoo Finance and find a number.” When Northway went to a downtown Jackson library to see if they had a listing of their own, they handed him a copy of the previous year’s MBJ Mississippi 100. That’s when he realized Mississippi 100 was the only ranking of private companies in the state.

By 2007, the Internet had caught up with Mississippi 100. MBJ hired a full-time researcher and employed third-party cloud-based software to build interactive surveys for companies to fill out each year.

Wally Northway

Company representatives are emailed a survey from the Mississippi Business Journal through a personalized data website. A company can add all of its corporate contact information and include a summary of its industry specifics. Sales revenue is the only metric the database is ranked by and this field must be completed by the annual deadline in order for a company to be considered for inclusion on the list.

In addition to crushing the tedium of manual data mining, one great thing about the DataJoe software service is it allows companies to request a copy of the data from MBJ at any point in the year if they need to make updates like a new CEO, product line or service.

Once research is completed, the list is organized, ranked, fact checked, proofed and published in the weekly issue of the Mississippi Business Journal. A digital copy of the Mississippi 100 is also kept on the website and published in the annual MBJ Book of Lists.

Often enough, out-of-state companies or government agencies will contact MBJ wanting a copy of the Mississippi 100 so they can research the state’s top industries for market growth potential. It’s just one of the many ways the list insures its importance year after year.

“The Mississippi 100 has always reflected a good slice of Mississippi’s economy and how that economy has improved or otherwise evolved in the last three decades,” Northway said.

Work has already begun on the 2013 Mississippi 100. Companies interested in being included on the list can submit a survey by contacting Wally Northway at (601) 364-1016 or via email at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Stephen McDill

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