When Gov. Phil Bryant delivered his inaugural address, he pledged to work hard to build a Mississippi where every resident who wants a job can find a job. In order to attract new opportunities, Mississippi must position itself as a prime location for business and workforce development. To generate solid policies to help our state grow, Gov. Bryant created Mississippi Works—a diverse group of business leaders focused on increasing economic opportunities in Mississippi and crafting a long-range strategy for strengthening the state’s business and workforce development efforts.
In collaboration with the governor, the members of the Mississippi Works executive committee have developed a policy agenda for the 2013 legislative session. We believe that these policies, if adopted by the Mississippi Legislature, will bring new jobs to Mississippians and will equip our state with a more skilled workforce.
Chief among our proposals is stabilizing Mississippi’s tax environment for small businesses. In his Executive Budget Recommendation, Gov. Bryant provided relief for small employers that are penalized by a state budget mechanism that requires them to pre-pay certain taxes. In 2007, the Legislature exempted many small businesses from this burdensome requirement but then suspended its own proposal. We urge lawmakers to finally enact the relief this year and provide Mississippi’s small employers with a more secure environment for growth and job creation.
We must also take action to develop industries that are positioned for growth. We believe that private sector health care development can be a major economic driver and know there is a strong correlation between physician recruitment and economic development. Unfortunately, Mississippi has some of the most burdensome physician licensing requirements in the country; revising requirements will encourage physicians to relocate in Mississippi without affecting the standard of practice.
Further, Mississippi should draw more physicians to its most medically underserved areas, and Mississippi Works proposes enhancing the state’s already successful rural physicians scholarship program. Providing an additional $5,000 per year to the current $30,000 per year scholarship program for doctors who commit to practice in rural areas and raising the scholarship recipient cap from 60 students to 65 students per year will create better health care access for Mississippians while boosting rural economies.
As Gov. Bryant has said, Mississippi must also focus on strategically developing its energy industry. Through our proposal for The Energy Sustainability and Development Act, the Mississippi Development Authority will work to promote Mississippi as a leader in energy development, job creation, and research. In addition, state agencies will be required to save tax payer dollars by adopting smarter energy management plans and sharing consumption data
Mississippi Works proposes harnessing energy-related opportunities by improving the Energy Infrastructure Revolving Loan Fund. Utilizing funds already authorized by the Legislature, this loan mechanism will aid local governments and utilities in constructing and upgrading energy infrastructure throughout the state, enhancing Mississippi’s ability to welcome new industry—even in very remote areas.
Mississippi should also continue to provide incentives to businesses when appropriate. By providing workable funding levels to proven programs managed by MDA, Mississippi will remain competitive with other states and can support expansion of existing businesses. Mississippi Works is also supportive of legislation that would require the State Bond Commission to approve any bonds that are considered state debt and listed in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Such oversight would protect the interests of the taxpayers whose money finances those bonds and would provide additional safeguards for Mississippi’s financial stability.
Finally, we recommend further investment in Mississippi’s most important asset—its workforce. In Mississippi, certain businesses that create jobs are eligible for incentive tax credits, and Mississippi Works supports offering workforce training funding in lieu of the tax credit to businesses that want to further educate and develop Mississippi workers. We believe that this effort, combined with the comprehensive reforms to public education that Governor Bryant and others will push for this legislative session, will set a path for developing the type of top-notch workforce that companies need.
We are excited about what the future holds for Mississippi. By adopting sound policies to guide our growth, we can ensure prosperity now and for the generations to come.
Jim Barksdale is chairman of the board and president of Barksdale Management Corporation.
Bill Lampton is president of Asphalt Groups of Ergon, Inc.