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Chick-fil-A has customer service down to a science

March 13th, 2012 Comments off

It’s interesting to see how much attention the business world’s service industry, in general, gets for being surly, cantankerous and, in many cases, uninterested.

Yet, things never change.

We complain to ourselves, our spouses or our friends about specific instances at specific businesses, then — more times than not — we continue to patronize the business as if nothing ever happened.

Carlie Kollath at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo recently wrote a column on the subject. She says that in the current economic times, it is particularly important to keep customers happy and coming back.

First impressions are more important than ever for businesses. Consumers like me are rethinking how we spend money. We don’t buy a new outfit every weekend. And, we have cut back on dining out every night of the week.

But we still shop and eat out.

And when we do, we want businesses to want our business. We want them to be excited that we have chosen to spend money with them instead of someone else.

Yet, I’ve found a lack of enthusiasm in Tupelo lately in the retail and restaurant sector. The main breakdown has been how I am greeted when I enter the business.

I’ve been ignored as employees text on their cell phones. I’ve been talked down to for asking about something I saw on the company’s website that I can’t find in the store.

>> READ KOLLATH’S ENTIRE COLUMN …

It reminds me of a column written by a colleague and friend of mine, the late Tony Lanius, from when I worked at the Daily Journal way back in the stone ages, late last century.

Tony had made a dinner run for the copy desk one evening and encountered some troubles along the way with poor service and a general lack of effort and concern from the staff at a couple of different restaurants along Gloster Ave. To say that Tony was a little unhappy about the experience would be like saying that Mount Everest is kind of tall.

From there, Tony penned his column that got lots of attention across North Mississippi.

The bottom line is it doesn’t take much to be nice. A pleasant disposition, a smile and a few good manners will get you a long way, even if there are other things that aren’t necessarily perfect.

That’s why it’s always nice to do business at Chick-fil-A. You all know what I mean. It’s  the “My pleasure” at the end of the transaction that really gets you — it really classes up the joint. There is always a smile and a good attitude from everyone that permeates each restaurant.

Plus, getting great service, when you don’t always get great service elsewhere, makes visits to Chick-fil-A that much more special.

So, it bears repeating that a smile and a good disposition will get you a long way, whether economic times are good or not. But a smile and good economic times are preferred, if we get a choice.

Canton officials should come out of their caves

February 27th, 2012 Comments off

In some parts of Mississippi, humans never evolved from cavemen.

That is the case in Canton, where city leaders’ lawsuit against Nissan North American for the right to annex the nearby vehicle production plant is scheduled for trial in August.

Canton officials say legislation approved in 2000 that prohibits the city from annexing the plant for 30 years without the automaker’s written consent violates the equal protection clauses of the U.S. and state constitutions.

A federal jury trial is scheduled for Aug. 6-17.

Nissan agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes to the Canton school district and to Madison County. Madison County uses the Nissan funds to make payments on bonds used for public infrastructure improvements for the plant.

Nissan has operated the $1.4 billion Canton plant since May 2003.

It should be remembered that before the plant was built near the city, the city had wanted to annex the land, but Nissan threatened to back out of the deal.

What makes these same city leaders think Nissan doesn’t feel the same way today. It seems Canton’s needs are served much better with Nissan being where it is.

Would Canton be better off annexing the land with an empty Nissan plant on it?

Save our kids — Government overstepping its bounds?

February 20th, 2012 Comments off

Government is too involved in our everyday lives. That’s the popular mantra for this political season.

Yet, every time we turn around, there is another bill that finds a way to get involved in our everyday lives.

This week, it’s a bill that would educate youth sports leaders and participants about concussions and would make it illegal for coaches to send players back on the field after suffering one.

It is a great idea. Everyone is against kids having concussions.

It’s still a bill that finds a way to get involved in our everyday lives. So, is it OK for government to have more regulation or isn’t it?

Who is going to oversee whether a high school football coach, who makes less than $50,000 a year, as to whether he makes the correct evaluation?

Is Mississippi going to fund the extra medical staff at every high school sporting event — from football to futbol — to make sure we give accurate assessments?

Again, everyone is for kids not being forced to play sports with concussions, but I am not sure Mississippi’s legislature needs to step in to make that happen.

Having covered sports for a large part of my career, it is my opinion that the vast majority of coaches go out of their way to make sure kids remain healthy. The only thing this bill would do is to act as a deterrent for good, quality people to get into the coaching profession. Considering the hours involved and the money offered, it’s particularly difficult now.

Maybe the Mississippi legislature could offer a bill requiring a certain amount of people to be high school athletics coaches.

Why a Newt Gingrich presidency might help Mississippi

February 3rd, 2012 2 comments

Just sitting on your couch and listening, some of Newt Gingrich’s latest ideas might seem to be a little — OK, a lot — off the wall.
Amazingly enough, some of Newt’s ideas might actually be good for Mississippi’s economy in general and the Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, specifically.
In fact, many of Newt’s ideas aren’t new at all — specifically the one in which the Republican presidential candidate wants to create a lunar colony that he says could become a U.S. state.
Gingrich has been hammered everywhere, from the far right to the far left and everywhere in between, as having read too many science-fiction novels. But mainstream science experts, including some Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney supporters, say Gingrich isn’t off the mark at all — at least where it comes to having a “first permanent base on the moon.”
Returning to the moon and building an outpost there is not new. Until three years ago, it was U.S. policy and billions of dollars were spent on that idea.
Since 1969, staying on the moon has been a part of many president’s plans, including George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush.
That’s where Stennis Space Center comes in. George W. Bush, proposed a unar outpost, phased out the space shuttle program and spent more than $9 billion designing a return to the moon program.
Stennis had been a part of testing the rocket boosters for the shuttle program. Losing the shuttle program might have been devastating for Stennis.
Yet, NASA has already chosen Michoud, just across the line in Louisiana, to construct components of a next-generation, heavy-lift rocket being designed to transport astronauts to destinations like asteroids and Mars. Stennis, meanwhile, is test-firing the engines that will power that vehicle beyond low-Earth orbit and into deep space.
And the lunar colony?
George Washington University space policy director Scott Pace, who was NASA’s associate administrator in the second Bush administration and is a Romney supporter, said the 2020 lunar base date Gingrich mentioned was feasible when it was proposed in 2005.
The fact is it was President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel the program. Pace said it would be hard to figure out when NASA could get back to the moon, but that such a return is doable.
Neal Lane, former head of the National Science Foundation and White House science adviser during the Clinton administration, told the Associated Press that Gingrich’s proposals aren’t crazy, although he may disagree with some of them. Gingrich’s ideas and actions are “very pro-science,” said Lane, who credited Gingrich with protecting federal science research from budget cuts in the 1990s.
“He’s on the edge of mainstream thinking about big science. Except for the idea of establishing a colony on the moon, it’s not over the edge,” added Syracuse University science policy professor Henry Lambright.
NASA, understandably, wants to stay out of presidential politics and chooses not to comment on this particular issue.
However, there is no doubt a renewed interest in the space program — regardless of its genesis — could help the long-term health of NASA and Stennis, specifically.

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

Maybe ‘trash dogs’ are the answer for Madison

December 21st, 2011 Comments off

Have you ever noticed that just about every neighborhood has a “trash dog”?

You know, the dog that wanders through every few days and picks out one house to hit, knocking over a trash can and dragging away all the good stuff it can and leaving a giant mess in its wake.

Or maybe it’s just the neighborhoods I have happened to live in. Who knows?

Regardless, unless you neighborhood has the best trash dog on the planet — one that is able to drag away every last sliver or scrap of paper or broken toy or whatever — do you ever wonder where your trash goes once you put it on the street?

The short answer is a landfill.

I never really thought I would be interested in trash, but in the last few weeks — amazingly enough — I have.

I had been invited to tour the Golden Triangle Regional Solid Waste Management Authority landfill in Northeast Mississippi a few times, but I had never made time to view the facility until a couple of weeks ago. After a trip up to speak to the West Point Rotary Club, I made the 10-minute drive to the landfill with few expectations other than I might ruin a good pair of pants.

However, it was fascinating, and I left with my pants clean, other than the chicken I spilled on them from the Rotary meeting.

The science and high-tech brainpower that goes into building, implementation and maintenance of these facilities is amazing.

I am working on a story to publish in the next couple of weeks on the landfill. Having said that, there has been landfill controversy in the news the last several weeks.

Some Madison residents have been up in arms about a proposed landfill in Madison County that a woman at a recent public forum was quoted as calling it an “environmental injustice.”

The anti-landfill folks were reported to say their environmental and health concerns include:

>> Infrastructure problems;

>> Complications from stench …

>> Rodents and …

>> Buzzards.

While I don’t have all of the information at hand about this particular landfill, I am certain concerns these residents have levied aren’t as big a deal as you might think.

First, stench was high on my list of concerns when I went to the Golden Triangle facility. Amazingly, after touring nearly every inch of the place, that was not an issue.

Rodents? Probably, but I have since asked two homeowners about that issue to which they said there was none.

Buzzards? I saw a bunch there, but I literally see as many or more buzzards picking at road kill on St. Augustine Road near Strawberry Park in Madison every week. Those are buzzards I have to deal with every day. Buzzards at the landfill are at the landfill, not the local park where my children play.

I’m not saying the proposed landfill is perfect in every way, and I am not saying Madison County doesn’t need to answer the public’s questions. What I am saying is landfills of today aren’t your grandfather’s local dump, where people would drive to unload an ugly 20-year old couch.

Landfills are a necessity, and there is significant regulation to ensure the safety of the community.

Landfills are also a necessity for economic growth. For a county like Madison where business and residential growth is dizzying, the trash must go somewhere.

And, as far as I can tell, there aren’t enough trash dogs to go around.

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

>> 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

>> 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.

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

Barbour’s horse needs a trip to vet before he bets our money

September 2nd, 2011 Comments off

From the MBJ staff

Solar energy may be the wave of the future, but Mississippi should be careful where it comes to being an investor in new companies promising the moon — er, sun.
Evergreen Solar in Massachusetts went bankrupt last month, leaving that state hanging after an investment of more than $40 million of taxpayer dollars in the business.
Then, last week, solar panel maker Solyndra’s bankruptcy left stakeholders and industry observers wondering what the firm’s dramatic collapse will mean for the solar industry. At the same time Solyndra was announcing its bankruptcy, Gov. Haley Barbour was announcing his proposed deal to invest $75 million to bring Calisolar, of Sunnyvale, Calif., to Columbus. He said the company will create 951 direct full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $45,000 plus benefits. Calisolar’s Columbus facility will produce solar silicon.
Stion, which will make make thin-film solar panels in Hattiesburg, was awarded a $75-million loan from the Mississippi Legislature and plans a Sept. 16 ribbon cutting. The company says it feels comfortable in the marketplace with its thin-film technology.
By all accounts Solyndra was doing well, building a 1-million-square-foot factory and employing 1,100 workers to make its cylindrical CIGs solar panels.
But, while the company that “had been hailed as a poster child for the cleantech economy” fell apart, “its failure doesn’t spell the end for a robust solar market,” say investors and solar officials.
However, the company’s failure should make Mississippi officials much more leery about the millions of dollars they have doled out trying to bring jobs to a crippled Mississippi economy.
Mississippi has also awarded a large loan — $50 million — to solar company Twin Creeks, which will manufacture crystalline silicon solar panels in Senatobia. If Calisolar’s $75-million loan is approved, Mississippi’s total solar investment will come to $175 million.
You could say Barbour and other industry recruiters for Mississippi are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Yet, there are still many serious questions that must be answered as we loan piles of money into alternative energy startups.
Alain Harrus, a venture capitalist with Crosslink Capital, which is invested in another government-backed solar company, Abound Solar, told the San Francisco Business Times that Solyndra was a well-run company, whose demise was inevitable.
“They executed as well as one can be expected to on this type of scale,” he said. “The technology — it’s a success. Commercially, they got caught in a down-slope on the pricing. At the end of the day you can’t ship things if it costs more to ship than what you can get money for.”
The fact that Solyndra did nearly everything correctly and still went bankrupt should be terrifying for Mississippians.
Investment in solar power shouldn’t stop, but we have to be very careful to make sure the money of all Mississippians is spent well and that government can see the forest for the trees.
The real question is, what is the forced liquidation value of these companies? Mississippians have a right to know. If these companies fail and a fire sale occurs, how could taxpayers recover compared to what they put in? If the numbers are close to the loans amounts, these might not be bad deals. If not, then we could be in serious trouble.