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Businessperson of the Year not always singular

December 16th, 2011 Comments off

When we first dreamed up the idea of having an MBJ Businessperson of the Year, we had no idea that the inaugural award would turn out like it did.

We generally thought the award would end up going to someone like a Hu Meena at C Spire, who led his Ridgeland-based companies to new heights in 2011 by working a deal to offer Apple’s iPhone to his customers.

>> SEE MAIN STORY: SURVIVING THE STORM
>> SEE WHAT’S NEXT FOR SMITHVILLE
>> SEE WHAT THE FAMILIES ARE SAYING
>> TOWN BANKING ON HIGHWAY RECONSTRUCTION

Maybe someone like Hartley Peavey at Peavey Electronics in Meridian for the yeoman’s work he has done over the course of a lifetime that has led to a more positive image for Mississippi.

But when we really began to think more about the year that was in 2011, the weather from the historic floods and the EF-5 tornado that struck Smithville kept coming to the forefront.

From there, we looked for business people who had really made a difference to their communities and regions in a great time of need.

Then, we ran across Doughbellys Pizzeria and Mel’s Diner — two businesses that were totally destroyed during the April 27 storms.

So, here we are. In our inaugural Businessperson of the Year award, we are honoring the grit and guile of two Smithville small business ownerships, who stared down a community-destroying EF-5 tornado. Theirs, along with all but two business, were destroyed last April. But Phillip and Tiffany Lockhart of Doughbellys Pizzeria and Bobby and Melanie Edwards of Mel’s Diner have built back — bigger and better — and are serving a town that is healing on multiple levels. Sometimes, success is not measured in hundreds of millions of dollars made, but in serving your community. This is one of those times.

Many business owners fled, however, worried that the small, rebuilding Smithville might not be able to support much business going forward.

So, why stay?

According to Ted Carter’s story on page 13, there were signs that suggested that there was still plenty work to do in Smithville — for the town and themselves.

So why didn’t Smithville restaurateurs Bobby and Melanie Edwards and their neighbors Phillip and Tiffany Lockhart move on to new pursuits or go back to former occupations after April 27’s EF-5 tornado destroyed their businesses?

The Edwards say signs signaling what they should do appeared among the debris that was Mel‘s Diner, a business they built together for 14 years. The tornado took all the walls except the one dividing the kitchen and walk-in freezer and most every other part of the structure. But it left behind much of what Bobby and Melanie would need to make a new start including grills, stoves and fryers. The cake mixes, macaroni and other food remained on a shelf undisturbed.

“All the stuff was sitting there,” Bobby Edwards says. “The equipment was there.”

The reaction of Melanie Edwards? “She said, ‘God didn’t leave all this stuff here for us to just walk off,’” her husband recalls.

Sounds like a great reason to me.

So, while in the future, I am sure there will be lots of CEOs and bank presidents and more traditional types that will win this award, this time our most prestigious award goes to a group of people whose hard-working business practices just may help save an entire town.

We thank Edwards and the Lockharts for their dedication to their craft, their families and their towns. They are absolutely deserving of this honor.

Fortune tellers may be the key to economic progress

December 9th, 2011 Comments off

Headlines in every newspaper across the country seem to give conflicting information on the current status and the future of the world economy.

We are left to wonder when, if ever, we will ever come out of this — what seems to be never-ending — economic slowdown.

One day you read that the governments of Europe are in such a bind with the Euro that everyone’s economic system is going straight down the tubes.

The next day, you read that a limit in paying state taxes by big business will help ease the pain.

Then, it’s back to Europe where leaders feel a new plan will make everything better.

At home last week, Southern Motion announced it is expanding operations in Baldwyn. The reclining furniture manufacturer’s announcement was good news for Northeast Mississippi, which has been reliant on the furniture industry the last 20 years.

The next day, though, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported that furniture maker KI will lay off 70 employees in north Mississippi as it closes its Pontotoc factory and converts a second in Tupelo to a warehouse.

What gives? Up, down. Opening a business, closing a business.

You need a fortune teller to figure out all of this.

But wait. Hattiesburg’s city council may have the answer for everyone from Egypt, Miss., to, well, Egypt.

In a stroke of genius, Hattiesburg’s city leaders have repealed a ban on fortune telling.

OK, a federal judge ruled their old ordinance unenforceable, but with so much of an unforeseen future, Hattiesburg has made the right call.

Economic leaders from across the world can come to Hattiesburg to talk with Sister Marie. If president of Spain has a long life line, then his country is going to pull out of this thing. If not — well — let’s not talk about that.

But, maybe it’s not that simple.

We have to wait 120 days before the ordinance is repealed.

That’s far too long.

Mississippi, as well as the U.S. and the rest of the world, cannot wait 120 days for information that could put civilization back in normal working condition.

Hattiesburg’s City Attorney Charles Lawrence says it will take the 120 days to get new regulations in place, such as zoning restrictions.

Restrictions my foot.

There should be a fortune teller on every corner if it means we can put people back to work and money back in retirement accounts.

Donald Trump should bring this up at the next Republican presidential debate. Our future depends on it.

But, then again, the fortune tellers already knew that.

What happens when you mix Okra and Gorillas?

December 9th, 2011 Comments off

Here at the Editor’s Notebook, we are Delta State football fans.

So, don’t forget that Delta State’s Fighting Okra or, if you prefer, Statesmen (or, as one of my 5-year-old son’s best friends says — FLYING YOKRA) will be playing in the national semifinals.

DSU will be on the road this week against a team with my second favorite nickname (you probably already know my favorite) — the Pitsburg (Kan.) State Gorillas.

How great is that? Makes me wonder why there are more gorillas out there. I hear the school makes a ton of money every year from jersey and apparel sales. Now that’s the 500-pound gorilla in the room (sorry, terrible pun).

Anyway, you can catch the Okra and the Gorillas at 6 p.m. Saturday on the ESPN family of channels. At my house, it will be ESPN GamePlan.

Enjoy the game and …. GO FLYING YOKRA!!!

Going to West Point for Rotary Club visit

December 7th, 2011 Comments off

As we are trying to put the finishing touches on the MBJ’s printed edition for Dec. 12 (Monday), I am also preparing to travel to West Point tomorrow (Thursday) for a visit with its local Rotary Club.

I am looking forward to going and talking with the group. I have a lot of family and friends in the area. So, I am sure it will be a lot of fun.

I get to chat with civic organizations from time to time. Having been the program director, once upon a time, for the Greenville Rotary Club, I know it is hard to come up with quality programs on a week-in and week-out basis.

What a quality program is to one person may not be to another, but if other civic groups or any organization are looking for a program, I, or someone from the Mississippi Business Journal, will be happy to add it to our calendar.

I am always looking to preach the gospel of the MBJ. So, give me a call at 601-364-1018 or e-mail me at ross.reily@msbusiness.com.

I’ll let y’all know how everything goes in West Point.

Southern Motion to expand in Baldwyn

December 5th, 2011 Comments off

Officials from Southern Motion, a reclining furniture manufacturer, have announced it is expanding into Baldwyn, where it will manufacture a new line of upholstered recliners. The company is locating into the 192,500-square-foot building formerly occupied by ForeFront Golf. The company says it will invest $3 million and will create 150 new jobs over the next three years. Southern Motion also has manufacturing operations in Pontotoc, where the company employs approximately 915 workers.

The Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) provided assistance for the project through the Momentum Mississippi Incentives program for modifications to the building in which Southern Motion will be located. Also, the Appalachian Regional Commission and Prentiss County provided assistance for infrastructure improvements at the site, and the City of Baldwyn donated land to be used for truck access.

Founded in 1996 in Pontotoc, Southern Motion manufactures motion furniture including recliners, sofas and loveseats, sectionals and home theater furniture.

Snake-oil salesmen make a killing in the name of economic development

December 1st, 2011 3 comments

Most every little town in Mississippi — from the Tennessee line to the Gulf of Mexico — has an economic development arm.

Presidents of growth alliances, economic development associations, or whatever each town prefers to call its version, routinely make anywhere from $60,000 to more than $100,000 to lure big business to small-town Mississippi. We are talking about paying that kind of money in towns with populations ranging from 9,000 to around 20,000.

In many cases, the economic development expert has left one small town for another, hoping to accomplish in the latter what he or she failed to accomplish in the former.

It’s not necessary for these towns to pay that kind of money for an “Economic Development President” to travel, eat nice meals and make phone calls when — in most cases — the only thing the town gets in return is a fatter, more well-traveled “Economic Development President.”

While some may argue that now — in this economic climate — is the absolute best time to hire aggressive economic developers, this really is the worst time to waste money when other more productive and important departments — like fire and police services or education — are being cut to the bone or cut out all-together.

We scream about wasteful government spending on the national level. Yet, when there is duplicitous spending on the local level, we find ways to rationalize the process. There is no reason to have small-town economic developers when, just up the road, there is generally an economic development agency that serves the entire region — such as the statewide Mississippi Development Authority.

There have been calls at the national level of getting rid of large-scale economic development agencies, such as — although not specifically mentioned — the MDA.

In an op-ed to The Wall Street Journal in June, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a Tea Party stalwart dedicated to reducing the size of the government, called for the elimination of the Economic Development Administration. He says the EDA’s efforts duplicate existing federal programs.

While I am certain there is much fat to be trimmed, the MDA’s overall work is needed to facilitate economic progress.

Towns need to think about consolidating, using existing services and working regionally. The best example of regionalism at work in the last 50 years in Mississippi is in Northeast Mississippi, where companies have located in and around Tupelo with little selfish pushback in individual communities.

Toyota recognized that, and placed its new production facility near the interstate-like U.S. 78 and U.S. 45 intersection as people from as far away as Corinth, Columbus, Oxford and across the state line in Alabama will drive to Blue Springs to work.

The bottom line is that in small towns around the state, essential services like police, fire, education and infrastructure repairs are being slashed or eliminated in the name of fiscal responsibility. In the mean time, as much as $100,000 is being handed out to the president of an economic development organization who is making claims of working hard on the next big thing — when the only thing of significance that might be getting done is making sure the local farmers market has a clean working area for the spring and summer months.

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

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>> 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

>> SEE RELATED STORY: iPhone a coup for C Spire

>> SEE RELATED STORY: C Spire reveals iPhone plan

>> 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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