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ALAN TURNER — The high cost of poor transportation

ALAN TURNER

ALAN TURNER

From a business perspective, Mississippi has much to recommend.

We have a real advantage in terms of our location on the Gulf Coast, and we’re strategically positioned to serve not only the Deep South, but the Midwest and Southwest as well. We have some of the richest agricultural land in the world, along with great timber resources. Unlike other states such as Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, we have great water resources.

Our people are some of the friendliest you’ll find anywhere in America, and there is generally a strong work ethic on the part of our work force. We have some outstanding institutions of higher learning.

As encouraging as all of these things may be, however, we are still lacking in some of the important assets that would serve to propel our growth and bring much-needed prosperity to our state.

Yes, one of our great needs is for a much-improved education system. Yes, we need to find ways to reduce our crime rates, teenage pregnancy rates, and poverty rates. As vital as those needs are, we need to do some other important things to help us deal with them.

I’m referring specifically to the poor state of transportation in our state, by which I mean the condition of our roads and bridges, our need for a world-class airport in Jackson, and much improved infrastructure to bring more and bigger businesses to Mississippi.

Notwithstanding the brouhaha over the Jackson Airport Board, the really important thing is to transform the airport into a facility that we can be proud of. Recently, I happened to be chatting with someone who flies into and out of the airport on a frequent basis.

“You know,” she said, “Whenever I come into the Jackson airport, the first thing I notice is that the whole place smells like old grease.” That struck me in the gut, so to speak. She went on to lament the loss of Southwest Airlines, saying that made things much harder from a business traveler’s perspective.

I have written before about how expensive it generally is to fly from Jackson. I have personally flown from New Orleans or Gulfport because it was much less expensive than flying from Jackson, and also because the schedules were far more convenient. I am not alone in this. A member of our staff recently saved $1,000 on his family’s vacation by flying from New Orleans rather than Jackson.

It’s a standard line, but a true one, that a world-class market demands a world-class airport. I’m not necessarily seeking to cast blame here, but instead to suggest that what we need to do is get together and MAKE IT BETTER.

The same is true for our roads and bridges. Just begin with the terrible condition of the extensive road system in Jackson; if you drive on city streets and roadways, you know how bad it truly is. Many senior business executives I talk with are quick to point out that “as Jackson goes, so goes the state”. Clearly, we need not to cast blame here, either, but simply get together and make a commitment to fixing the problems.

It’s certainly true that none of the fixes will be cheap. They won’t be easy. They can’t be done overnight. But think about it. If we DON’T make the commitment and move forward to find and implement the essential solutions, where will we be in 10 years? What will that cost be?

Probably we’ll be no better than today, and quite possibly, in much worse shape. If we cannot move things and people in an efficient, safe manner, we’re not going to be the world-class economic environment of which we can all be proud.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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