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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In a stroke of genius, Hattiesburg’s city leaders have repealed a ban on fortune telling.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We have to wait 120 days before the ordinance is repealed.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.

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.

Democrats out to take America in a coup …

August 4th, 2011 4 comments

I just saw someone of prominence in the Mississippi business community make the following comment …

“Socialism in action: Euro stocks absolutely tanked today on fear of debt problems spreading. Dow down over 500 points. This is Barry/Pelosi/Reid’s model for America. …”

Great call Mr. Business Leader … Yeah, these guys are rooting for everyone to go broke, including themselves … That will help them and everybody else … That’s intelligent!

Really?

Luckett leads MBJ reader poll

July 12th, 2011 Comments off

Despite Johnny Dupree receiving an endorsement today from Congressman Bennie Thompson, Clarksdale businessman Bill Luckett leads a MBJ reader poll asking who will be the Democratic nominee for governor. Click here to see the results and vote.

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Endorsements are a lot like pickled cucumbers

July 8th, 2011 Comments off

My wife understands that my brain works differently than most people’s. It could be the reason she loves me, or she could just be taking pity on me.
Either way, she keeps me around despite the random questions and statements I have and make.
Lately, the questions have been more frequent. She just rolls her eyes and keeps on moving.
Like last weekend. I was watching the Red Sox play on TV on July 4. I was horrified at the god-awful ugly hats my team was wearing that captured the American flag inside the “B” on the hat. I get it. It’s Independence Day. It’s patriotic, I guess. It’s an opportunity for Major League Baseball to make more money on the sales of the alternative hat. It’s still ugly.
But why were the Toronto Blue Jays wearing a similar-style hat? Toronto is still in Canada, right?
Will American teams wear ugly hats with a maple leaf imbedded in the logo for the Canadian independence day? When is Canadian independence day?
Another of my questions is why is a pickle named a pickle? I mean, it’s a pickled cucumber.
We have pickled okra and pickled beats and pickled eggs and even pickled pigs feet. So, what’s up with pickles. Was it the first thing ever pickled?
This may all seem silly, but all of this random thinking fits well in an election year.
Everyone has been, particularly in the governor and lieutenant governor’s race, endorsed by someone.
Both Dave Dennis and Phil Bryant have been endorsed by The Tea Party, which is odd.
A press release from the Dennis camp didn’t make it much clearer … The “Official TEA Party of Mississippi” (although others claim to be THE statewide TEA group) has endorsed Bryant. The Gulf Coast 912 Project and Alcorn County TEA Party Patriots have endorsed Dennis.
Uh, OK.
When the NRA endorsed Bryant, Dennis followed up by saying he had been a member of the NRA for 20 years. Then he ripped the endorsement, calling it “politics.”
Uh, yeah.
Bryant gets the nod from “several law enforcement” groups.
Dennis gets the nod from the Madison County Journal newspaper.
Former Sen. Trent Lott endorsed Billy Hewes for lieutenant governor while Tate Reeves has endorsements from just about everyone else.
My favorite though, came on June 27 when Bryant’s camp announced it had received the endorsement from “Bully Bloc.”
The Bully Bloc, according to the press release, is a non-partisan political action committee, not affiliated with Mississippi State University.
So, let me get this straight.
An endorsement was given from an organization whose main claim to fame is that it is not affiliated with Mississippi State University.
Why even point it out?
I would rather contemplate the origins of the pickle.
It makes more sense.

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

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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.”

>>>SEE REPORT<<<

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.

Scrap metal thieves beware

June 15th, 2011 1 comment

Scrap metal thieves across the South are shaking in their boots today as The Mississippi Department of Transportation, Secretary of State’s Office and local law enforcement officials say they will be on the lookout for looters transporting or gutting scrap metal from homes and businesses vacated due to flooding.
All of these folks said all of this in a press release.
The release started with, “Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has already warned scrap metal thieves that authorities were watching to ensure they do not steal from flooded homes and businesses. Now others, even some outside the state, are joining in that watch.”
“It’s hard enough for flood victims dealing with the devastation of their homes being damaged by high flood waters,” Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall is reported to have said in the release.
Now, if we can get the scrap metal thieves to read.

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.

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.

Obama releases birth certificate; birthers can shut up

April 27th, 2011 Comments off

I guess now with news that the White House has released the long form of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, Donald Trump won’t be running for president.

His festering questions about whether Obama was born in the U.S. seemed to be his only talking point.

The certificate, released Wednesday, says Obama was born in Hawaii, which makes him eligible to hold the office of president. Obama had earlier released a standard short form, but requested copies of his original birth certificate from Hawaii officials this week.

Also,  with the release of the birth certificate, the so-called birthers can shut the hell up.