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Coast economy continues to lag behind the state in key metrics

By JUSTIN VICORY

The Coast’s economy is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession and the BP Oil Spill, and remains behind the state curve in important economic indicators, including sales tax revenue and median income, a business expert said.

In a recent PowerPoint presentation entitled “The Uphill Recovery From the BP Oil Spill,” President of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council, Ashley Edwards concluded Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties have not realized the same economic momentum as other regions – including the overall state of Mississippi.

Edwards looked at economic data from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security from Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2016 in his analysis.

He said the data comes in conflict with a common perception that the Coast region, with it’s maritime and tourism industries, does better economically than the rest of the state.

Edwards found that since 2010, the Coast has seen a reduction in establishment jobs – which includes manufacturing and non manufacturing jobs – of 3,490 jobs, compared to an increase of 47,700 jobs across the state in the same time frame. There have been significant job losses in higher paying sectors in particular, he said.

“When you look at the numbers, almost all the job increases are almost solely in the hospitality, food and beverage industries. Alone, that’s a good thing, but without a diversification of job gains, we (the Coast) continue to lose ground in average media income compared to the rest of the country and the rest of the state,” he said.

A good deal of good paying jobs, or those that would raise the median average dissolved over the years as many businesses fraught with a drop in revenue post Katrina, the Great Recession and the BP Oil Spill left the market. Economically speaking, the levy finally broke, Edwards said.

“I think that many businesses had finally had enough. They left the Coast and their businesses behind. Following (Hurricane) Katrina, the median income average along the Coast was roughly $4,000 below the state average. It’ll be closer to $16,000 or $20,000 below the average in the coming years,” he said.

Also since 2010:

» Overall city sales-tax revenue increased by 17.4 percent across the state, but by 13.6 percent along the Coast.

» Taxable income has increased by 6 percent across the state, but decreased by 2 percent along the Coast.

» Ad valorum property taxes and overall assessments have not kept up with the overall pace of the state of Mississippi.

» The gap between median household income compared with the U.S. average continues to widen.

In his role as business council president, Edwards advocates for local control of BP settlement funds and further investment from the state.

“The Coast is undoubtedly one of the economic engines of the state. And the health of the Coast has a direct influence on the state of Mississippi. We can spread out investment across all 82 counties and have nothing to show for it in the end. Or we can invest it in the Coast’s economic engine so that it will benefit future generations,” he said.

Although Nashville, Tennessee, isn’t an apples to apples comparison with the Coast, Edwards said he found a recent trip there insightful. Nashville’s economy ranks as one of the fastest-growing in the country, according to a report from the United States Conference of Mayors.

“They’re not the same but the similarity is that they — like us — have a big tourism industry. However, the city isn’t dependent on tourism alone. They have a very diversified economy. That’s how we should view investment,” he said.

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