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Ball State University report: Mississippi is fat and stupid

June 17th, 2011 3 comments

Mississippians are fat, stupid and doomed to low-wage, menial careers, according to a Ball State University report.

However, officials at the Mississippi Economic Council scoff at the findings, leading MEC president Blake Wilson to say, “I’m glad (they are) very safe behind (their) internet research perch.”

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Michael Hicks, director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research, which conducted the study, told the Mississippi Business Journal that 4 out of 10 Mississippians are not going to be able to compete for jobs in the new manufacturing world, which depends greatly on mathematical skills and education.

“We’re in trouble. We are in big trouble,” admitted former Mississippi university and high school administrator Reggie Barnes.

The Ball State report graded all 50 states in several areas of the economy that support manufacturing and logistics. Mississippi ranked low in education, obesity and overall health, among other categories.

“Mississippi is a nice place,” Hicks said. “But the only jobs most people are going to get are shucking oysters and sweeping floors.”

Mississippi received an overall score of C+ for manufacturing and good grades in diversification and tax climate. However, failing grades in human capital and venture capital give Mississippi a dim economic future to look toward.

“Obviously, he has never been to Mississippi,” Wilson said. “That’s just a ridiculous statement. Anybody that knows anything about Mississippi knows we’ve got all kinds of high-tech employment.

“He’s probably looking at older data when he’s looking at that conclusion,” Wilson said. “And this is why we don’t take this kind of study very seriously. I mean it’s legitimate research. It’s just that it doesn’t mean a whole lot.”

But when asked about the MEC response, Hicks chuckled and said, “So, let me guess, the MEC is wanting to tell you that Mississippi is a great place and I am some Yankee that doesn’t know what he is talking about?

“To say that poor education is not holding back Mississippi from an economic perspective is to suggest your head is in the sand or a darker orifice,” he said.
One Mississippi expert acknowledges the downside of the report, and says this should be a wake up call to Mississippi leaders to make a change.

“An F on human capital? Ouch,” exclaims Mississippi College assistant professor of finance Nancy Anderson, who is also on the board of the Mississippi Council on Economic Education.

Anderson, however, noted that most southern states are similarly graded.
“Our lower grades are ‘fixable,’ with some effort,” Anderson said. “This seems to be a call for more investment in education, more funding for university research. The venture capital hurdle can even be cleared, with some help from the public sector.”

Mississippi officials — Including Jay Moon at the Mississippi Manufacturers Association and director of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Hank Bounds — were not available to the Mississippi Business Journal for an interview regarding this story.

“Some states, such as Indiana, have seen a real turnaround in manufacturing employment since the end of the recession (up 4.6 percent), while the nation as a whole has seen one in 50 manufacturing jobs lost,” Hicks says.

“Prior to the recession, business location and expansion decisions were almost wholly driven by the availability of skilled workers,” he says. “Today, that is far less a short term consideration, and tax rates, and concern about future tax increases due to high pension costs and other factors dominate business decisions to relocate.  So, states that emerge from this recession with a solid fiscal climate will tend to outperform those with uncertain balance sheets.”

That is good news for Mississippi in the short term.

“Haley Barbour will be glad to hear that,” Hicks said. “Mississippi will likely benefit for the near term because of its friendly tax laws and diversity of manufacturing. In the current recovery, states with good tax climates are going to do well.”

But in Mississippi, the real problem of education and healthcare “has not gone away,” Hicks said.

While Mississippi may be gaining cutting-edge manufacturing from the solar and green energy sector, there are few actual Mississippians who can take advantage of the new jobs. Therefore, the new jobs will likely go to people moving from other states, having little positive effect on the double-digit unemployment here.

Even if Mississippi gets all of the high-tech jobs on the plant, Mississippians, for the most part, aren’t going to be the people working there, Hicks explains. (Mississippians) are good people, but they lack the education to work in a real-world economy.

The other side is that because of the poor education and general health of the state (the fattest state in America), Hicks says the best applicants likely will never consider moving to Mississippi.

“That’s the problem,” Hicks says of the long-term economic future of Mississippi. And the positives from the tax climate and diversification don’t come close to making up for the downsides.

“(Mississippi) is just not going to get (the new and best) major manufacturing plants,” Hicks said. “(Mississippians without a proper education) are out of the mix.”

The problem is with 8th grade math scores. Mississippi is far behind the rest of the nation and that is an area manufacturing is concentrating on.

In a cover story in Atlantic Magazine, education was front and center. Nationwide: only 6 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced-proficiency level in math, a share that lags behind kids in some 30 other countries, from the United Kingdom to Taiwan.

In Mississippi, math scores are much worse, and students here — by this measure at least — might as well be attending school in Thailand or Serbia. Every year, a better education for our youth is listed as our top need, like in this Ball State report. To this point, Mississippi just cut spending at every level of education from kindergarten to graduate school.

Barnes said this is at the heart of the problem of education and industry and economy.

“When are we going to learn or wake up to the direct correlation between education and economic development?” Barnes asked. “We just keep our heads in the sand.”

School superintendents with experience are not willing to make a change at the local level for fear of losing their jobs and their retirement, because of the pressure put on them from above, he said. As for younger superintendents, he says they are unwilling to rock the boat for fear of having their future yanked out from under them.

“You must have these skills,” Hicks said. “Computer skills and a higher lever of math is what everyone is looking for.”

And Mississippi workers do not and will not have these skills, based on scores Ball State examined for its study.

“When are we going to make those changes?” Barnes asked. “I wish I could tell you someone, somewhere has the guts to stand up and change things, but I don’t see it.”

And then he said there is no debating that without an overhaul, Mississippi will continue to be compared to Thailand, where the large-scale sex industry flourishes and education is on the back burner.

Groupon getting hit from all sides

June 15th, 2011 Comments off

Never let it be said I am against Groupon … It seems to be getting hit from all sides.

Groupon is not as sweet as you might think it is

June 14th, 2011 Comments off
When the national deal-of-the-day website Groupon arrived in Mississippi back in the fall, it came with great fanfare.
Across the nation, the three-year-old coupon company has been all the hype. It is the largest of its competitors and claims it distributes online coupons from merchants in 500 markets and 44 countries.
However, as far as many small business owners are concerned, some of the shine has faded from the fad.
Media swarmed Nandy’s Candy in Jackson when it became the first Mississippi business to offer coupons from the meteoric company.
TV types reported live from the historic candy store’s parking lot at 5:30 in the morning that first day the initial deals were to be offered.
Newspapers described the excitement of businesses and consumers had as the national phenomenon finally reached Mississippi.
Groupon — like so many other happenings, including fashion trends and even the great recession — took a while to matriculate to these parts.
The consumers in these parts are still thrilled with the idea of getting great stuff for less money.
But Nancy King, owner of Nandy’s for more than 30 years, doesn’t give an overwhelming endorsement of Groupon.
“We got a lot of exposure in the media because we were the first,” she said. “It brought some more customers in … but I don’t know if I would do it again.”
King’s eyes are wide open to the process.
“Let’s get this straight, Groupon is making a kazillion dollars. They aren’t about me. They are about making money.”
Groupon has made so much money that Facebook and Google want a piece of the action and have launched similar products.
In fact, the initial public offering filing by Groupon, has drawn comparisons to Google.
Some have estimated Groupon’s potential worth at $20 billion to $30 billion. Google was $27 billion at the time of its 2004 IPO.
But buyer beware. Reports — like the story of the café owner in Portland who lost $8,000 using Groupon — are all over the Web.
And there are many skeptics, including Bloomberg’s James Temple, who recently wrote, “Strip away all the hope and hype surrounding Groupon and you’re left with this: It’s a coupon company. Its major innovation was to distribute them through e-mail instead of the Sunday paper.”
Then there’s business analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, who recently wrote a column for Forbes on the subject.
“This IPO game isn’t about finding value, it’s about finding a greater fool who who actually believes the valuation is true. Trust me, you will be the fool. There will be plenty more IPOs coming up of companies with greater profitability and higher barriers to entry (e.g. social networks with hundreds of millions of followers). Those will be wiser investments.”
And Nancy King at Nandy’s Candy is no fool.
“Groupon makes a fortune (and for a small business owner) it is a good tool, but you have to be cautious,” she said.
A less experienced business owner could be overwhelmed with the process and lose a lot of money, King warned.
But she also makes the point that Groupon ain’t from around here and doesn’t have a clue about the Mississippi market.
Groupon associates insisted on King following a cookie-cutter model that would have had her hiring more people and spending more money because of the flood of business the company said would walk through the door.
“But they don’t know anything about us,” she said.
“We live in a state with two-and-a-half million people. This thing may work great in Atlanta and Dallas and New York and Chicago, but that’s not this market.”
There are lots of other options as far as King is concerned.
“Quite honestly, I still believe in the newspaper,” she said. “I like holding it in my hands; I like to see the pages turn.”
She said advertising in more traditional ways is still working for Nandy’s Candy.
And while she won’t say that she won’t ever use Groupon again, King believes there are a lot of unknowns with which to be concerned.
Small business, which makes up the vast majority of the American economy, by King’s and so many others’ estimates, isn’t particularly made to cash in on Groupon.
But Groupon is absolutely going to try to cash in on America’s small business owners.
Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018

Jackson blogger weighs in on NASCAR track

June 8th, 2011 Comments off

Interest is growing about the proposition of building a NASCAR track in Mississippi.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has used the economic development project as part of his stump speech as he campaigns for governor.

Since I wrote a column, looking for details on what it would take to bring such a development to the Magnolia State, there has been lots of talk and discussion about the subject.

Many wonder why I would be against bringing a NASCAR or similar-type motorsports track to Mississippi. That’s not the point.

The Mississippi Business Journal is interested in the details of what it would take to make it happen.

We would be for bringing the Dallas Cowboys to Mississippi too, but we would want to know how it would be done and what Mississippi is willing to give up, financially, to make it happen.

Those type of details have not been offered. The only thing offered has been “We are for NASCAR.”

A Jackson blogger pointed that out about one of our critics today.

Craft beer enthusiasts get boost

June 6th, 2011 Comments off

According media reports, Tax assassin Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform have thrown their support behind some important legislation that was in May introduced to mark American Craft Brew Week– The Brewer’s Employment and Excise Relief Act of 2011 or BEER Act.

Lazy Magnolia owner Leslie Henderson can be seen here on Fox and Friends throwing her support behind the idea.

Bryant drafting on idea of a NASCAR track

June 6th, 2011 1 comment

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant knows every speed-loving Mississippian would support bringing NASCAR to the state, and he’s promising, as part of his campaign for governor, to help make it happen.
But there’s a big problem with that promise: Bryant can’t keep it.
There will not be a NASCAR track built in Mississippi. And even if one gets built, it’s highly unlikely NASCAR would schedule any races here.
In a recent speech in Rankin County, Bryant told a group of supporters, “We have even talked to some friends … about a NASCAR track. I’m gonna go ahead and tell you I want one. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say we need a NASCAR track here in Mississippi. And I’ve got the people to come together that want to do that.”
However, motorsports insiders say that’s never going to happen.
The last track sanctioned by NASCAR was the $152-million Kentucky Speedway, which will have its first official race with the big boys in July. But it took five years and two lawsuits to get the track included in the series.
“NASCAR is looking to cut back on dates, not increase dates,” Sports Business Journal motorsports writer Tripp Mickle said. “That’s an empty promise. That’s never going to happen.”
NASCAR has been going through the same economic crisis as every other industry in the nation. It already cut purses for the Nationwide Series by 20 per cent this season, a move designed to make hosting the second-tier series a more profitable proposition for track owners. It also cut the number of races this year from 35 to 34.
But short track owners are losing money, too, and the industry is scrambling to come up with a viable solution.
Mickle estimated a new track in Mississippi could cost between $200 million and $500 million and take up to three years to build.
“Maybe you could get one of the minor series to come,” he said, “but, I don’t know.”
Even a Mississippi-born NASCAR insider, who wants a track in Mississippi, said there’s no way it will happen.
“No chance,” said former nascar.com managing editor Duane Cross, who grew up in Aberdeen. “To get up and talk about that is really not very fair.”
Promising a NASCAR track is one thing, he said, but laying out a clear set of plans and details is something else.
Bryant, for now at least, is keeping those details to himself.
Other than his comments on the campaign trail, Bryant would not respond to interview requests to detail the idea, but a statement attributed to him said he is for NASCAR in Mississippi.
That doesn’t add up. Bryant is on the campaign trail telling potential voters he wants to bring NASCAR to Mississippi, yet he doesn’t want to talk about the specifics of building what, at minimum, could be a $200-million track and breaking into the NASCAR schedule.
To get a national touring series race — Cup, Nationwide or Truck — a track must apply for a NASCAR-sanctioned license. The track must then meet minimum safety requirements.
“Even then,” Cross said, “the chances of NASCAR adding a date to the existing schedule is almost nil.”
The same is true for a local series race, like K&N Pro East or West, Whelen Modified or Whelen Southern Modified and Whelen All-American.
Cross, who is now editor of ncaa.com, said there is a better opportunity for Mississippi to get a local series track sanctioned “but the economic impact is almost minimal.”
So, is Bryant’s NASCAR talk just an attempt to get votes by misleading the public?
If it’s not and he’s serious about making this happen, his potential supporters deserve more than a weak promise built on the sands of political sentiment. Without the details, it looks a lot like Bryant is just spinning his wheels.

Norquist will not seek re-election in Legislature; Dallas expected to seek position

May 27th, 2011 Comments off

District 28 state representative David Norquist (D-Cleveland) will not seek re-election in order to spend more time with his family, according to a source close to the situation.

Early word is that Cleveland native David Dallas is going to run for the position. Dallas is the former director of the Bologna Performing Arts Center at Delta State Univ

DAVID NORQUIST

ersity and is currently executive director of the HealthCare Foundation of the Tri-State Delta in Greenville.

Norquist has been a member of the Agriculture, Conservation and Water Resources, Gaming, Judiciary B, JudiciaryEn Banc and Universities and Colleges committees.

Norquist is also a member of the City of Cleveland Volunteer Fire Department, and he is a member of the Mississippi Defense Lawyers Association, the Defense Research Institute and the American Bar Association.

Dallas, meanwhile, is a graduate of Delta State, who went on to Mississippi State, where he helped care for the aging Sen. John C. Stennis.

Stennis, a 1923 Mississippi A&M College (now MSU) graduate, returned to campus in 1988 following his retirement. Nearly 90 at the time, he lived in a university residence for several years before declining health required his relocation to a full-care facility near Jackson.
Dallas was the MSU graduate student who served for two years as personal Stennis’ aide.
Dallas went on to write an award-winning screeenplay and script for a one-man play about his days with Sen. Stennis, named “A Gentleman from Mississippi.” He portrays three characters: himself as a Stennis caregiver; Stennis as a frail and wheelchair-bound former national leader; and Stennis at the height of his senatorial power.

DAVID DALLAS

Stennis died in 1995 and is buried at Pinecrest Cemetery in DeKalb.

After completing his master’s degree in public administration at MSU in 1990, Dallas went to Washington as a Presidential Management Intern in federal service. He also holds a bachelor’s in political science and English literature at Delta State University, where his father is a retired history professor.

Dallas spent five years at Delta State as Executive Director of the Bologna Performing Arts Center, where he was selected as “Delta Innovator” in 2008.
He nearly 20 years of professional experience, which includes developing, monitoring, and evaluating grant projects along with successful strategic leadership. After graduating from MSU, he was selected by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management for a Presidential Management Fellowship and later received a Legislative Fellowship with the U.S. Senate through the Office of Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott. He served six years with the United States Information Agency’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs where he administered a $40 million dollar grant program with the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union under the FREEDOM Support Act. He was selected by the Japanese Prime Minister’s office as the lead U.S. Delegate on the Prime Minister’s Ship for World Youth in a three-month tour of the Pacific. He then served as the Director of International Programs at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Cochran position not based in fact

May 10th, 2011 Comments off

South Delta flooding can be controlled and the environment can be the better for it if the Yazoo Backwater Project is funded and undertaken by the federal government.

However, when Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) drew comparisons between the current Mississippi River flooding and the flooding that would be controlled by a pump system in the south Delta, he was comparing apples and oranges.

A pump system, as I learned not that long ago, would do the south Delta no good right now, and we hope Sen. Cochran isn’t playing political games and misleading the public for the sake of getting this project approved.

If we must resort to misleading statements to take care of business, the business isn’t worth it.

When I spoke with someone at the Environmental Protection Agency in January about about why it is against the project, a representative told me the pure and organic state of the Delta would be ruined by inserting pumps into the ecosystem.

That was false and misleading too.

The only way to take the Delta back to a pure and organic state would be to blow up all of the levees and allow the Mississippi River flow across the land as it did hundreds of years ago, when most of what we see now were cypress swamps.

Cochran could be saying that by judging how the corp of engineers makes decisions on the current flooding could be compared to decision making in conjunction with the pump project. It’s still a reach but that argument could be made.

All should make this decision based on the merit of project, not misleading statements.

Live blog to highlight MBJ’s coverage of the Mississippi Bankers Association convention in Destin, Florida

May 9th, 2011 Comments off

Mississippi Business Journal banking writer Ted Carter will be reporting live this week from the Mississippi Bankers Association annual convention in Destin, Fla. Look for his reports on the “Business Blog” on this site.
Ted looks forward to personally meeting bankers from across the state and learning about the issues and trends of importance to them. Mississippi’s banks have experienced historic challenges in recent years and must now gear up for meeting significant new challenges that are part of the nation’s financial reform law. Some of the new law’s mandates must be met by mid summer. Ted will be especially interested in reporting on the preparations Mississippi’s banking sector is making to meet the mandates.
He will be interested as well in news about your bank, including new services, new technology, new partnerships, new customer-recruitment or or anything else you think the MBJ’s readers would like to know about your bank.
Ted looks forward to making the acquaintance of the the people who make it possible for Mississippi’s banks to serve their communities.

MC’s Eduardo a rare individual, truly kind and honest

May 9th, 2011 Comments off

If you get the opportunity, read Martin Willoughby’s column on our website about Marcelo Eduardo, who is Mississippi College’s dean of its school of business.

I won’t repeat the column here, but Eduardo was born in Lapaz, Bolivia, and found his way to Mississippi through a tennis scholarship at Delta State in Cleveland.

Marcelo and I went to school together at DSU and lived in the same dorm, Noel Hall. He was a little older than I, but we became great friends, and despite not seeing each other that often any more, I still think of him as a great friend.

There are a couple of things that stick out to me about Marcelo. First, I have never heard anyone say anything bad about him. Well, I have heard students be critical of him because he is, apparently, a tough instructor and professor. Those I know who have worked with him have told me he is the most prepared and knowledgeable professor they had ever run across.

But Marcelo is truly one of the kindest and gentlest souls you will ever run across. He is as honest as the day is long and if he says he will do something, you can write it in stone.

Now, I am sure he has his faults. We all do, but he is a great guy and deserving of the accolades he is given in Martin’s column.

He is the best tennis player I have ever seen in Mississippi, and having spent many years as a sports writer who covered professional tennis from time to time, I feel like my evaluation skills are pretty good. … If I remember correctly, as a teen, he played in the Junior Orange Bowl Tennis Championship in Miami and beat former World No. 1 and nine-time Grand Slam title winner Stephan Edberg.

He doesn’t play, really, anymore because of a bad back he has had since his days in college, but when he stopped playing tennis, he picked up golf. He became of one the best scratch golfers in Mississippi, having placed in the top 10 of the Mississippi Amateur several times.

Basically, anything that required great hand-eye coordination, he was really good at — ping pong, racquetball, badminton — seriously.

However, I have never seen him try to hit a baseball or softball.

Maybe he really sucks at that. It would be just about the only thing.

Take a look at Martin’s column, it is a good read.