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Archive for March, 2010

Riverwalk a project we can’t afford to skimp on

March 25th, 2010 Comments off

When Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson gets the keys to the car that is the Jackson Riverwalk, be sure it is him that will decide whether that car is a Rolls Royce or a Yugo.
In a story in this edition of the Mississippi Business Journal, staff writer Clay Chandler talks with Jackson developer David Watkins who came up with the ambitious project that would feature a mile-long, concrete-lined canal that starts at Farish Street and ends at Court Street, where it would empty into a 35-acre lake that connected to the Pearl River.
Watkins, who developed the renovated Hotel King Edward and who is currently renovating the Standard Life Building, said then he hoped to turn the project over to the City of Jackson and its redevelopment authority within 30 days, which would have been the middle part of January, which still hasn’t happened.
But, Watkins says he is ready to hand the project over to the city and he believes something will be happening with it in the next five years — even saying the project could be near completion.
Wait a minute. Is this just a pie-in-the-sky notion that will never happen?
That’s what a lot of folks said when Watkins rescued the King Edward Hotel.
That’s what a lot of folks said when he got involved in the Standard Life Building.
Far be it for me to call David Watkins a hero, but the man has a track record of making the unthinkable happen.
You won’t read words in these pages that doubt David Watkins.
If his vision can be seen through to the end, the face of Jackson will be changed forever.
If Mayor Johnson can find a way to make this happen, he will be viewed as the mayor who put Jackson on par with some of the great small cities in America.
In our story this week, Clay Chandler writes about the financial burden that Jackson has. The city, as he points out, is in the middle of a nosedive in tax collections that have forced leaders to make some politically unpopular decisions and is just starting to cause some workers at multiple levels of government to lose their jobs.
And the city’s involvement in the $300-million project is nonnegotiable, Watkins told the MBJ, because there will have to be public financing, probably in the form of bonds, to pull it off.
But this is the project that Johnson cannot afford to pass on. This is the game changer.
This project, if done correctly, will turn the tide on “white flight” and make Jackson a destination for everyone in Mississippi as well as so many others throughout the Southeast and across the nation.
Good luck, Mayor Johnson. The keys are in your hands.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

Because it’s in the latter part of the Americas

March 18th, 2010 Comments off

For the purposes of this blog post, we will call him Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith was a history professor at my high school back in the mid-1980s. Really, he was a nice enough guy, never seemed to have any ill-will toward anyone that I know of. But he was the worst teacher I ever had.
Someone once asked him, “Mr. Smith, why do they call Latin America, Latin America?”
“Because,” Mr. Smith responded as serious as he could be, “It’s in the latter part of the Americas.”
And the stories about Mr. Smith are endless. At a high school reunion, a group of us sat around for hours telling Mr. Smith stories.
Mine?
I gave a current events report in which I made up a country in eastern Europe that was embroiled in a civil war. I went on forever, it seemed. But the gist of it was that the poor people of this country were storming the capital city with tractors and crop dusters.
Mr. Smith asked me my source for the story.
“The NBC Evening News with Tom Brokaw,” I responded.
“Hmm,” Mr. Smith said. “Must of missed that one.”
I received an ‘A’.
It all seemed pretty funny at the time, and when I’m around old high school friends, it’s still pretty funny.
But the sad part is by the time I went to college, I had very little base of history to prepare me for what I needed at the next level.
More increasingly, we are learning that teachers are the key to our country having a better and more important educational system.
There are great teachers in the world. I wouldn’t have made it through high school without folks like Mary Dalton and Jimmy Warren.
And we must reward those who are pulling their weight.
But those that aren’t, like Mr. Smith, need to be held accountable.
In a survey given by the Mississippi Economic Council, 70-plus percent of business leaders believe the the No.1 business issue in Mississippi is education.
If, indeed, that is the case, we have got to have better teachers to lead our children.
Teachers have a great job, maybe the most important job in the world, and there should be a system of checks and balances that regulates them.
If they are good or great, like my former shop teacher Arthur Holbrook, they should be rewarded with pay raises and job advancement.
But we don’t like to admit that there are too many Mr. Smiths in the world, and without accountability they are going to continue to hold us back as a state and a country.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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New Delta industry not what it is purported

March 11th, 2010 Comments off

I hate to be the fly in the punch bowl here, but the continued talk about new industry in the Delta changing the way of life there is truly nauseating.
As a Delta native, I continue to be amazed at how folks like to associate with the Delta in order to makes themselves seem like they are helping a third world country.
Don’t get me wrong, the fact that a German company broke ground on a $300-million pipe manufacturing plant last week in Tunica County is a great opportunity for jobs in the area.
But what area?
The Mississippi Delta comprises many counties from the Tennessee line all the way down to northern Warren County near Vicksburg. It runs from the Mississippi River to near Grenada and Batesville in the East.
And, yes, Tunica County is part of the mix.
But where the plant will be located in Northeast Tunica County, the vast majority of the up-to-500 jobs will likely go to  a ever growing DeSoto County population.
And no one is thumbing their nose at jobs for those folks in Desoto County.
However, it’s disingenuous, at best, for Gov. Haley Barbour and the powers that be in Tunica County to proclaim this, and many other projects to be giant victories for the most downtrodden region in the United States.
It was not so long ago when a new manufacturing plant launched in the City of Batesville.
Parts of Panola County are in the Delta, true enough. But when the effort was announced, it was put forth in a manner that made it sound like Deltans were going to get the lions share of the jobs.
In that instance, like the plant in Tunica County, most of the new jobs for the Batesville plant will go to those 20 miles east in Oxford rather than 20 miles west in Marks.
Again, good for those that are getting the jobs. We are in an economy where everyone who can get a job deserves it.
My concern is that we are telling the rest of the state a little white lie when new industry opens in fringe Delta counties.
Because what happens is the next time someone from Meridian hears about the plight of the Delta, they will think, “Well, they just had two companies with 1,000 jobs open. They can’t be too bad off.”
The fact is the new plant in Tunica County will have only a  mild effect on the Delta’s jobless population. That shouldn’t be overlooked.