The mainstream media continually reminds us Mississippians how little we have, how bleak the outlook is, how we are last in every positive socio-economic metric, and how we are first in every negative socio-economic metric. And while there is empirical data to support some of these claims, I chose (and it is a choice) to take a contrarian view of my Mississippi.
On a canvas pre-painted with paradox and hypocrisy, I see Mississippi not as the caboose of the train of progress, but as a state rich with opportunity and hope. Sure, we have a tainted past wrought with systematic and institutionalized disenfranchisement. However, the Mississippi I see comprises people willing to not only acknowledge this social and economic imbalance, but to work towards creating avenues of equity and inclusionary business practices.
I see Mississippians reaffirming their commitment to community through increased local investment and hiring practices. I see Mississippians, despite misguided policy and regulatory barriers, passionately creating goods and services with relatively fewer resources than competitors in other states. I see Mississippians moving away from a zero-sum game approach to economic progress to that of one focused on collective augmentation.
When less becomes a normalized state, it is creativity that becomes the great equalizer. It is our individual and collective creativity as Mississippians that will flip the narrative of these polarizing headlines. For creativity is blind to race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, gender, and age.
Creativity abounds in Mississippi. From our rich musical, literary, and culinary heritages, we have birthed unparalleled creativity much like the Mississippi River birthed the alluvial plain that became the Delta. Now, a new generation of entrepreneurs, makers, coders, programmers, brewers, distillers, chefs, journalists, and many others are building on the creative foundation laid by the iconic artists and artisans that call Mississippi home.
In every corner of the state, you will find people like Leslie and Mark Henderson, two Mississippi pioneers in the craft beverage industry. You will find people like Pontus Anderson, the founder of Myra Mirrors, a hardware and software company fundamentally altering how we interact with mirrors. You will find people like Richard Patrick and Austin Evans, lifelong friends, fans of the blues, and founders of Cathead Distillery, the first distillery in Mississippi since prohibition and now a burgeoning national brand. You will find people like Bill Rayburn and Dennis Tosh, the founders of a Mississippi-based technology startup that created 45 new millionaires in Mississippi with the stroke of an idea and a pen.
These are just a handful of the examples of the creativity and sense of entrepreneurship that permeates much of the modern day Mississippi economy. It is this undercurrent of progress and a recalibrated economic compass that will lead Mississippi up from the bottom. As a state, we need to refocus our efforts to support business growth from within – for it is the creative class and entrepreneurial minded that will lead Mississippi’s economic growth – and not rely on the recruitment of large-scale manufacturing.
We have a unique opportunity in front of us and need to capitalize on the entrepreneurial and creative spirit in Mississippi; but, fundamentally, we need policymakers to understand what role they can and should play in this process. While other Southeastern states are allocating greater financial resources towards entrepreneurial ecosystem development, we are doubling down on dated economic development strategies – strategies that over the long-term cost more than the benefit we receive.
I am deeply honored to have been asked by the Mississippi Business Journal to be a contributing columnist and discuss entrepreneurship both within Mississippi and beyond. As someone that has worked with and advised hundreds of entrepreneurs and startups throughout the Southeastern United States, my hope for this column is that it serves as a thought-provoking and compelling conversation. My objective, ultimately, is to not only empower creative entrepreneurs in Mississippi through storytelling, but also engage in an honest assessment of where entrepreneurship in Mississippi rates against other states in the region from an economic development perspective.
As a lifelong Mississippian, and in my roles as trusted advisor to my clients, executive director of a trade association, business owner, husband, and father to two little girls, it is my privilege and responsibility to advise, lead, inspire, and advocate on behalf of creative entrepreneurs in Mississippi. I hope you too will take a contrarian view of your Mississippi the next time you read a disparaging headline about our state, a state rich with an unparalleled sense of creativity.
» Matthew P. McLaughlin is an attorney with McLaughlin, PC in Jackson, and serves as the executive director of the Mississippi Brewers Guild. Matthew’s passion is working with creative and entrepreneurial-minded people and organizations, having worked with and advised hundreds of entrepreneurs, startups, and social innovators throughout the Southeastern United States. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601-487-4550, or you may visit www.mclaughlinpc.com for more information.
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