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

>> 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.

Bryant forges ahead on healthcare city

November 23rd, 2011 Comments off

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

Gov.-elect Phil Bryant

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

>> Read more about healthcare in Mississippi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having said that, we applaud Bryant’s efforts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 17th, 2011 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will Madison Mississippi be the next Silicon Valley?

November 11th, 2011 Comments off

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

That’s what Business Insider set out to find.

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

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

That is about to change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>> CLICK HERE FOR THE LIST

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

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Maybe debate should be the new football in Mississippi

November 8th, 2011 Comments off

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

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

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

That is high school debating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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