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Archive for November, 2011

Mississippi ranks next to last in nation on new measure of opportunity in America

November 28th, 2011 Comments off

The State of Mississippi has placed next to last in the nation, ranking 50th, on a new measure designed to indicate how effectively individuals living in a state can move up the economic ladders of society as compared to the rest of the country.

>> RELATED STORY: Mississippi is fat and stupid

>> RELATED STORY: Mississippi last in reading and math

>> RELATED STORY: Health, education key to Mississippi economy

The measure, called the Opportunity Index, pulls together more than a dozen data points to rank every state by awarding a first of its kind Opportunity Score. The Index is designed to empower community leaders, engaged citizens, and elected officials at all levels to become knowledgeable of the overall opportunity they are providing to those living in their region. It will be issued annually, giving leaders a way to track progress and measure the effectiveness of their efforts. Developed jointly by Opportunity Nation and the American Human Development Project, the Index is available online, for free in a user-friendly and interactive format at www.opportunityindex.org.

“Opportunity Nation starts from the belief that the zip code you’re born into shouldn’t pre-determine your destiny,” said Mark Edwards, executive director of Opportunity Nation. “For too long we have sliced and diced the interconnected issues of education, jobs, families, and communities – the framework underlying the idea of opportunity – into narrow silos that are disconnected. The reality is that these factors work in tandem to determine the potential success of our citizenry. That’s what the Opportunity Index provides – an unprecedented snapshot of what opportunity in America looks like at the local, state and national levels.”

MISSISSIPPI LANDS NEAR BOTTOM

Mississippi landed next to last in the nation, earning an Opportunity Score of 29.8 out of 100. Only the state of Nevada fared worse. The state ranked lower than national averages in 13 out of 16 categories. A few of the trouble areas that Mississippians struggle with include:

· Poverty Plays a Role: Mississippi has the lowest median household income in the country, at $36,796, and the highest poverty rate in the nation at 21.4%. It is one of three states in the nation where median household income is lower than $40,000 per year

· Not Part of the Information Superhighway: Mississippi has the lowest score for high-speed internet access, with only 43.5% of households having high-speed internet.

· Room for Improvement in Education: Mississippi has a significantly lower percentage of on-time high school graduates (64%) than the national average (74%). It is also falling behind in college graduates with only 19% of the population holding a bachelor’s degree. The national average is 27%.

“Having scored at or below the national average in many of the metrics used to formulate their Opportunity Score, Mississippi residents have much work to do before they can say they provide their residents with opportunities to improve their lives,” said

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C Spire pleased with decision by FCC to block AT&T/T-Mobile merger

November 23rd, 2011 Comments off

Executives with C Spire were pleased with the news from Tuesday that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission took steps  to block the proposed $39 billion merger of the mobile phone companies AT&T and T-Mobile USA.

“We are pleased the FCC has taken this important step toward a formal, administrative hearing to resolve questions regarding AT&T’s claims regarding its takeover of T-Mobile,” Eric Graham, vice president of Strategic and Government Relations for C Spire Wireless, told the Mississippi Business Journal. “C Spire Wireless has long asserted that this acquisition would be harmful to competition, the wireless industry and consumers. This action shows that Chairman Genachowski — like the Department of Justice — recognizes the harm inherent in AT&T’s bid to eliminate a competitor from the marketplace.”

>> SEE RELATED STORY: Judge approves C Spire lawsuit

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>> SEE RELATED STORY: Competitors react to C Spire’s deal with Apple for iPhone

The chairman, Julius Genachowski, made the move after the commission’s staff concluded that the deal would harm consumers, kill jobs and result in an overly concentrated wireless phone industry, F.C.C. officials said.

The decision puts another large roadblock in front of AT&T, the nation’s second-largest wireless phone company, in its effort to buy T-Mobile, the fourth-largest carrier. In August, the Justice Department filed a federal antitrust lawsuit to block the merger, saying it would stifle competition.

Mr. Genachowski on Tuesday notified the other three F.C.C. commissioners that he intended to refer the proposed merger to an administrative law judge for a trial-like hearing in which AT&T would be required to show that the deal was “in the public interest.” The commission — currently composed of three Democrats, including Mr. Genachowski, and one Republican — is likely to vote on the chairman’s plan in the next couple of weeks, an agency official said.

Bryant forges ahead on healthcare city

November 23rd, 2011 Comments off

You have to give Gov.-elect Phil Bryant credit.

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant

He is jumping in with both feet to work on campaign promises.

>> Read more about healthcare in Mississippi

Bryant is set to lead a trip to Houston, Texas, to tour Texas Medical Center on Nov. 29-30.

Bryant, who will become governor in January, will be joined by Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr., Flowood Mayor Gary Rhoads and some health care providers and business leaders.

Texas Medical Center consists of 49 institutions and is recognized as the largest medical center in the world. TMC has 162 buildings on its main campus, nearly 7,000 patient beds, over 90,000 employees, and 71,500 students.

Bryant has proposed creating a hospital city in Jackson, and the Texas Medical Center is a great place to emulate.

We hope that Bryant is able to find the same type of money from the private sector that Texas has been able to collect over the last 50 years.

A friend of mine in the fund-raising business for hospitals says that finding people to give huge amounts of money for healthcare these days is difficult.

Having said that, we applaud Bryant’s efforts.

Of course, one of the things Bryant could do immediately would be to ramp up the discussion on prevention and education.

We harken back to the recent story, “Life Expectancy Falling in 561 Rural Counties” by Bill Bishop that documents the fact that life expectancy is declining in more rural areas than urban ones. Read it. The first thing, though, that pops out is that 14 of the top (uh, worst) 50 counties in America with the shortest life expectancies are in Mississippi, including the top (worst) seven.

Then, there was the report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that highlighted Mississippi and Alabama as the only two states, which continue to apply their sales tax fully to food purchased for home consumption without providing any offsetting relief for low- and moderate-income families.

Gosh, if Mississippians were able to purchase more healthy foods, maybe they wouldn’t have such short lifespans.

There’s more. Men’s Health magazine ranked Jackson No. 3 in the nation as part of its “Laziest City in America” series.

We definitely need a hospital city as well as lots of sidewalks leading up to it so we can exercise on the way to being treated for obesity and heart disease.

So, with one of the slowest growing economies in the nation because of poor education and health care, Bryant’s feeling that healthcare is a prime issue is refreshing.

Starting with the elimination of corn-based sodas from K-12 campuses could jump-start all of Bryant’s plans. We agree.

We also agree that his trip to Houston is productive and a step in the right direction.

FAT, LAZY AND STUPID: Mississippi’s 99 percenters just sit, smoke and squander opportunities

November 17th, 2011 2 comments

Reading the national reports of the Occupy protests has me conflicted as I walk in and out of the offices of the Mississippi Business Journal in downtown Jackson.

The national reports conjure up heady folks making an impact on the world as they take on economic inequality and corporate irresponsibility.

Even if, nationally, the scruffy group has been prone to violence, defied police and shown evidence of drug use while camping in public parks across the country — there has been a sense of urgency in the message that is being delivered.

In Mississippi — Smith Park in downtown Jackson, in particular — there is little sense of urgency or sense of purpose.

In interviews we have done with the group, the talking points are all generic and don’t have any specifics that would lead one to believe the Mississippi group is doing anything other than taking up space in a public park.

On the national level, experts say the public supports the message of the Occupy Wall Street movement even if people have reservations about the encampments themselves. And political observers say Democrats may be missing a chance to reinvigorate their base.

In Mississippi, however, there are people protesting for the sake of protesting.

They sit around much of the day smoking, eating and sitting.

Every once in a while, you will hear five minutes of chanting during the lunch hour.

But largely, the Occupy protesters of Mississippi are lazy — even to their own cause.

They have done nothing to educate Jackson’s business community, which walks past the group by the thousands daily. Yet Occupy Mississippi’s numbers generally aren’t enough for a pick-up flag football game in my back yard.

With Mississippi being a conservative state, to begin with, the Occupy team has its work cut out in making a convincing case to the people that see them sitting around every day. Then, to make little or no effort to engage and educate is unacceptable.

Not that I am looking for a giant demonstration, but if you are going to hang around, at least act like you care. Don’t just sit there like a baby bird waiting to get fed by its mother.

Compared to the Occupy protest around the country, Mississippi has got to rank last in zest and zeal. But maybe they think just “occupying” space is enough.

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

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Will Madison Mississippi be the next Silicon Valley?

November 11th, 2011 Comments off

Where will the Internet’s next greatest business be born?

That’s what Business Insider set out to find.

While most people immediately associate the phrase “start-up” with Silicon Valley, or New York, the fact is that there are millions of budding entrepreneurs outside of America’s existing technology centers.

As broadband spreads into rural areas and small towns across the United States, economies are emerging in places that haven’t been considered viable markets by traditional investors and hardware manufacturers looking for areas to expand.

That is about to change.

According to the United States Census Bureau, small towns, cities, and counties with 10,000 to 50,000 residents are considered “micropolitan statistical areas.”

Sometimes, these are college towns filled with young Mark Zuckerberg wannabes who have grown up using all of the gadgets that drive today’s economy.

These young Turks of suburbia can’t remember life without the Internet, and many have viable ideas that, with a little love and mentoring from a tech-savvy angel investor or two, could become successful technology businesses.

Doubt this? Consider the fact that many colleges and universities with computer science and engineering curricula require students to write mobile applications or develop engineering prototypes for various classes.

Unfortunately, more times than not, all the student is left with at the end of the semester is a good grade and pat on the back.

Science and technology programs at these schools aren’t structured to provide institutional help in finding investors or even teach tech students how to market their great ideas.

But the fact is that it’s easier to teach a computer engineer how to become a marketer than it is to teach a marketer how to become a computer engineer. All of these dormant apps and technology projects represent a huge untapped market of intellectual property. Investors just need to know where to look.

With this in mind, Business Insider dug deep into the U.S. Census data and discovered 20 micropolitan areas that meet certain demographic requirements for a budding technology economy. These factors include a high level of broadband accessibility, a sizable workforce (in relative terms), a vibrant local economy, and the presence of a small college or university.

>> CLICK HERE FOR THE LIST

Interestingly, all of these locations have unemployment rates as much as five points below the national average, and the top five have a broadband availability rate of 100 percent. Even though the list is ranked from one to twenty, all things being considered, each of these locations present equal opportunities.

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Maybe debate should be the new football in Mississippi

November 8th, 2011 Comments off

With news of Houston Nutt losing his job as the football coach at Ole Miss, there has been renewed talk that too much money is spent on high school and college athletics.

As a huge sports fan, it’s hard for me to totally jump on that bandwagon, but it is hard to justify raising millions for college athletics when there are so many academic classes falling by the wayside because it is politically unpopular to spend money on academics.

Having said that, there is one high school activity that has a 100 percent positive impact on students and their schools as well as having a lifelong impact for the students.

That is high school debating.

Debate has nothing to do with the number of 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebackers a school may have walking the halls who may run a 4.5-second, 40-yard dash.

The fact of the matter is that smaller schools can do well if there is a higher standard of academic excellence required.

Every reason we send our children to school in the first place is what the art of debate teaches. It is what we hope is being taught in all of the classrooms.

In fact, the success of a school’s debate team, it could be argued, could be the singular measuring stick of the success of the school.

A debate team, as well as every student within a school, should be learning analytical skills. The ability to critically analyze a problem and propose workable solutions is invaluable. This is a skill that debate best teaches and high-level business people and professionals possess.

A debate team, as well as every student, should be learning research skills. From traditional library research to the Internet, debate teaches you to become a world-class researcher. Ask any college student, and they’ll tell you how valuable this is.

A debate team, as well as every student, should be learning listening and note-taking skills. Debate requires that you become a careful listener and good note taker. This helps students get better grades and learn faster.

Many of this nation’s top lawyers, business executives, doctors, engineers, and elected leaders were involved in high school debate, and for good reason. Simply put, debate-related skills help one get ahead and stay there. The power to persuade is highly respected and there is no better way to master this art than through debate.

After a recent debate competition, at least for 2011, it would appear that Hattiesburg High School, Oak Grove High School and Pascagoula High School have the most well-prepared students in Mississippi. And this was not an event just for public institutions. Even highly-regarded academic schools like St. Andrew’s and Jackson Prep were a part of the tournament.

So, cheers to the Hattiesburgs, Oak Groves and Pascagoulas of the world, who are offering a well-rounded education to their student population.

Boyce Adams either lying or uniformed when it comes to his key issue — the Kemper County Coal Plant

November 7th, 2011 Comments off

Why won’t Boyce Adams answer questions about his main talking point in the race against Brandon Presley for northern commissioner of the Mississippi Public Service Commission?

He has gone on the record several times, saying there will be no rate increase involved with the building of a $2.88 billion coal plant in Kemper County. Yet, when we called him this past week to ask him about it, he didn’t return multiple phone calls.

Boyce Adams has said there will be no rate increase invoved in the building of the Kemper County Coal Plant

In a story we ran in this week’s Mississippi Business Journal, Presley views the plant as a job-killer while Adams was quoted two weeks ago in A Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal story reports Adams as saying, “There is no rate hike associated with the project.”

RELATED STORIES …

••• KEMPER PLANT KEY IN HEATED PSC RACE

••• Bentz: The whole Kemper story is not getting told

••• Poultry association: Kemper could cost jobs in Mississippi

••• Topazi talks — ‘About a third’ really means ‘about a half’ where rate increases are concerned with Kemper Coal Plant

••• Public record or corporate secrets — PSC to decide whether public should be privy to matters concerning their pocket books ahead of corporate concerns of confidentiality

••• Kemper plant — Yes or no?

••• Presley pulling for Kemper, but admits it is a huge risk

••• Sierra Club sues to stop Kemper

••• The Kemper Project: What to expect

Brandon Presley has said he opposed and voted against the $2.8 billion Kemper Coal Plant and against the 45 percent rate hike

••• Kemper technology could be proving ground for a plant in China

••• BGR website changed following MBJ story on Kemper Plant

••• (VIDEO) Kemper County welcomes coal plant

••• (VIDEO) Anthony Topazi on the Kemper County Coal Plant

According to a 2009 document filed with the Commission, the Kemper plant could make customer rates go up by about 45 percent. Mississippi Power Company told poultry farmers that their rates would rise by 30 percent.

So, when it comes to rate hikes involved with the Kemper coal project, Adams is either lying or uninformed. In either case, that is unacceptable for someone basing his entire candidacy on the worthiness of the Kemper County Coal Plant.

From my perspective, I am sorry that we cannot provide people with a response from Adams about this issue. However, we have been calling him for nearly a week without a return phone call.

If he needs to clarify his position, he can reach me at (601) 364-1000.

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Mississippi photographer/writer Franke Keating dies at 95

November 4th, 2011 Comments off

Greenville’s Franke Keating, known world-wide as one of the most celebrated photographers for National Geographic, died Friday in Atlanta at 95.

Franke Keating, who died Friday, may be best known as a photographer for National Geographic Magazine and her coffee table book of photos from around the state of Mississippi.

Keating had lived in Atlanta recently with her son, Dr. John Keating, since her health had begun to fail.

“She was a special lady,” Greenville realtor Betsy Alexander said. “It is a sad day for Greenville.”

Having traveled across the globe to some of the world’s most exotic locales, including 17 trips to Kenya, Keating was known throughout Mississippi as an extraordinarily talented portrait photographer, having shot some of the area’s most well-known families and authors. She also shot for The Smithsonian and Travel and Leisure as well as smaller publications across America.

But to many around Greenville, she is simply known as “Ms. Franke.”

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“Franke lived her life fully,” said long-time friend Jan Engel. “She was always ready to go. She had more energy than I did. My family loved her dearly, and anyone who knew her loved her.”

A member of the Greenville community for more than 60 years, Franke Keating originally grew up across the river, in southeast Arkansas. In 1939, Keating married the love of her life, Bern, and moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. The couple relocated to Utica, N.Y., before Bern joined the U.S. Navy, and subsequently fought in World War II.

The Keatings returned to the South after the war, eventually settling in Greenville, where the couple opened a studio, which thrived on freelance and magazine contract work.
Initially, Bern was at the photographic helm of the business, but Franke longed to become more involved with the art. Eventually, the couple would switch roles, leaving Keating more in the photographer’s seat, and her husband took over the writing aspect of their work.

Franke with Parker Reily at the 2007 Keating Cookie Party

The couple traveled the world over the next 50 years, flying off into the wild blue yonder, traveling to far away lands, going on safari and meeting new and exciting adventures head on.

In 1995, Franke and Bern received the Special Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.

Keating’s importance to Greenville and the Delta is reflected in the comments of Greenville mayor Heather McTeer, who viewed her as an icon.

“She was an amazing woman, who showcased the Delta with her talents,” McTeer said. “I loved her adventureous side. She was a classic lady but was unafraid to go anywhere, or meet anyone.

“I also loved her grace. I usually saw her at local arts events and everytime, she always gave me a warm hug and kiss on both cheeks. Mrs. Keating was really special to Greenville.”

One of the things Franke loved the most was her Christmas cookie party, a Delta tradition for more than 50 years.

Franke and Bern up with the idea for the Cookie Party after visiting the home of a friend one Christmas where they admired the beautiful ornaments on the tree.  The Keatings decided to open their home and have children come to decorate ornaments for the birds to enjoy to be hung on trees in their yard. Over the years, the event grew to be more of a grownup party.  But Franke says she wanted a tradition for the children, “not a cocktail party!”

It was then that Franke literally sketched out several designs.  She took her drawings to a local blacksmith shop and had cookie cutters made.  To her surprise, the blacksmith made the cookie cutters out of copper. She promptly told him not to send her the bill until after New Year’s; she didn’t want to spoil her holiday.

When my family and I lived in Greenville, we were always invited to the Cookie Party, and my children always enjoyed the fun and frolicking at Ms Franke’s

Franke was one of the kindest and most talented people I ever met. She will be greatly missed.

Barksdale gets it when it comes to education

November 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale — an education advocate for Mississippi

Education is always the focus of former president and CEO of Netscape Jim Barksdale. Wherever he goes these days, he is singing the praises of Mississippi education.
So, it was interesting to hear Barksdale speak last week at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event, which came on the heels of the release of the national eighth grade reading in math scores.
Those scores have Mississippi firmly planted at No. 50 in the state rankings.
Yet, Barksdale says Mississippi children are making strides and that it is only a matter of time before the perception of Mississippi’s educational system is different.
The difference between Barksdale and other people who talk about education in Mississippi is that he has that business background to understand what, apparently, politicians do not.
Tough choices have to be made, Barksdale said, referring to teachers and administrators who aren’t living up to the standard our students deserve.
Barksdale is careful to point out that there are a significant number of teachers and administrators who are doing fantastic jobs, and believes making strides forward can be done.
He points to the Teach for America program, which has more volunteers in Mississippi than any other state.
In fact, Delta State University serves as the training ground for teachers for the entire country.
And that program is producing more good teachers and administrators than anything else Mississippi is doing right now.
Barksdale would like to see $12 million of the education budget devoted to help that program.
That’s not $12 million more dollars for education. Barksdale just wants to make sure that $12 million is allocated for that program and he believes the returns are worth the investment.
He is right.

>> RELATED VIDEO: Davis addresses Mississippi Council for Economic Education

>> RELATED STORY: Mississippians more optimistic about economy, education

>> RELATED STORY: Economist — Health, education key to economic growth

The bottom line is that teachers are the key to making the difference in Mississippi’s education.
And Barksdale would like to see a merit-based pay system to reward high-performing teachers.
Tough choices must be made and made now so that we can have better leadership for our future.
Barksdale is against having elected superintendents.
“You couldn’t run a business if you had to have elections for employees,” he said.
Appointing them is the way to go.
All of this won’t be easy and he knows that.
“Nobody likes change, but everybody likes progress.” Barksdale noted.
But he believes we can do it, because, in many cases, our public schools are achieving at a high level.
All of this takes money, and Barksdale stated many times he understands that money won’t buy an education for Mississippi’s kids, but, he said, “Money is essential, just not sufficient.”
Current levels of funding must be held firm is the message to the legislature, which should pay very close attention to Barksdale. He knows what he is doing.
It’s not just the future of the children at risk, it’s for all of us.
“Have faith in these little children,” Barksdale stresses.

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

LAST AGAIN — Mississippi ranked No. 50 in latest reading and math scores

November 1st, 2011 4 comments

We have done it again … Mississippi is ranked 50th in the nation in an education-related subject.

Will the next governor be able to improve on this score?

The good news is that Mississippi improved its score in both reading and math from 2009, but not enough to make up ground on West Virginia at No. 49. Mississippi did rank ahead of the District of Columbia in both categories. Massachusetts ranked No. 1 in both categories with scores of 46 and 51, respectively. Mississippi scores were 21 in reading and 19 in math while the national average were 32 and 34.

>> RELATED STORY: Barksdale gets it when it comes to education

>> RELATED VIDEO: Davis addresses Mississippi Council for Economic Education

>> RELATED STORY: Mississippians more optimistic about economy, education

>> RELATED STORY: Economist — Health, education key to economic growth

Below is a state-by-state look at the percentage of eighth-graders who scored at or above reading and math proficiency levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is administered by the Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. Proficiency levels in both subjects are shown for both 2009 and 2011, with reading scores in the first two columns and math scores in the next two.

2009 2011 2009 2011
Jurisdictions at or above proficient in reading at or above proficient in reading at or above proficient in math at or above proficient in math
National public 30 32 33 34
Alabama 24 26 20 20
Alaska 27 31 33 35
Arizona 27 28 29 31
Arkansas 27 28 27 29
California 22 24 23 25
Colorado 32 40 40 43
Connecticut 43 45 40 38
Delaware 31 33 32 32
Dist. of Columbia 14 16 11                                17
Florida 32 30 29 28
Georgia 27 28 27 28
Hawaii 22 26 25 30
Idaho 33 34 38 37
Illinois 33 34 33 33
Indiana 32 32 36 34
Iowa 32 33 34 34
Kansas 33 35 39 41
Kentucky 33 36 27 31
Louisiana 20 22 20 22
Maine 35 39 35 39
Maryland 36 40 40 40
Massachusetts 43 46 52 51
Michigan 31 32 31 31
Minnesota 38 39 47 48

>>MISSISSIPPI 19 21 15 19
Missouri 34 35 35 32
Montana 38 42 44 46
Nebraska 35 35 35 33
Nevada 22 26 25 29
New Hampshire 39 40 43 44
New Jersey 42 45 44 47
New Mexico 22 22 20 24
New York 33 35 34 30
North Carolina 29 31 36 37
North Dakota 34 34 43 43
Ohio 37 37 36 39
Oklahoma 26 27 24 27
Oregon 33 33 37 33
Pennsylvania 40 38 40 39
Rhode Island 28 33 28 34
South Carolina 24 27 30 32
South Dakota 37 35 42 42
Tennessee 28 27 25 24
Texas 27 27 36 40
Utah 33 35 35 35
Vermont 41 44 43 46
Virginia 32 36 36 40
Washington 36 37 39 40
West Virginia 22 24 19 21
Wisconsin 34 35 39 41
Wyoming 34 38 35 37
DoDEA 39 39 36 37