By JULIA MILLER
The origin of Public Service Commission’s new “Hire Mississippi” rule is simple.
“I drive all over the state, and I was driving by construction sites and kept seeing out-of-state car tags,” Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley said.
It frustrated him because he knew these sites were funded by taxpayers. He decided to research the numbers, and his office found that last year $810 million was spent by utilities on contractors for operations and maintenance. Only 30 percent of that went to Mississippi businesses.
“That’s a shame and disgrace,” he said.
That adds up to $560 million flowing outside the state lines. That number doesn’t include construction or other contracting needs.
“The more work, the more money we keep in state businesses, that’s more dollars that are helping our people,” he said. “That’s economic development in its purest form.”
Entergy Mississippi spokesperson Mara Hartmann said they support the rule wholeheartedly.
“It will enhance job growth and economic development,” she said. “The more business in state, the customers we have.”
Hartmann said Entergy always strives to hire in-state businesses when possible. She said the exception is generally when specialized needs cannot be met by Mississippi-based businesses. For example, the Grand Gulf Plant requires contractors to be familiar with nuclear needs. There are few contractors available for their needs across the nation.
So what is the “Hire Mississippi” rule? It targets rate regulated, investor-owned utilities and creates regulations to improve the utilities’ bidding process.
“It’s a robust effort of transparency, awareness and accountability,” he said. “We’re trying to put Mississippi first.”
The rule creates a Hire Mississippi list that contractors can opt into. At least four times a year, the utilities will be required to publish notice in newspapers throughout their territory and request contractors submit their business to be on the list. These companies will receive notification of any upcoming bids for contracts over $200,000 within the scope of goods or services they provide.
After the bidding process has been completed, the utilities will be required to answer two questions. Did you hire a Mississippi business? If no, why not? This will create a way for the Mississippi businesses to then learn why they didn’t win the bid. Two common reasons will likely be too much money or not possessing the right certifications. The businesses can then use that information to improve their future bids.
Entergy already does a lot of what the rule requires. They currently provide business forums and are looking to increase training opportunities as there is demand. They have always published notices in the paper, but they are working to redesign these ads in a more eye-catching way throughout their 45-county service area.
Presley said the utilities have an obligation to choose the lowest and best bids, and this rule does not influence that. What it does is to grow the bid pool and to make sure Mississippi businesses have the correct information to provide the best bid possible.
“This is really aimed at the guy and gal with a backhoe, who wants to get into construction, knows how,” he said.
Presley said the Mississippi Public Service Commission is one of the first, if not the first, commission to take something like this own.
“I am unabashedly helping Mississippi businesses with this rule,” he said.