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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.

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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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Mississippi photographer/writer Franke Keating dies at 95

November 4th, 2011 Comments off

Greenville’s Franke Keating, known world-wide as one of the most celebrated photographers for National Geographic, died Friday in Atlanta at 95.

Franke Keating, who died Friday, may be best known as a photographer for National Geographic Magazine and her coffee table book of photos from around the state of Mississippi.

Keating had lived in Atlanta recently with her son, Dr. John Keating, since her health had begun to fail.

“She was a special lady,” Greenville realtor Betsy Alexander said. “It is a sad day for Greenville.”

Having traveled across the globe to some of the world’s most exotic locales, including 17 trips to Kenya, Keating was known throughout Mississippi as an extraordinarily talented portrait photographer, having shot some of the area’s most well-known families and authors. She also shot for The Smithsonian and Travel and Leisure as well as smaller publications across America.

But to many around Greenville, she is simply known as “Ms. Franke.”

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“Franke lived her life fully,” said long-time friend Jan Engel. “She was always ready to go. She had more energy than I did. My family loved her dearly, and anyone who knew her loved her.”

A member of the Greenville community for more than 60 years, Franke Keating originally grew up across the river, in southeast Arkansas. In 1939, Keating married the love of her life, Bern, and moved to West Palm Beach, Fla. The couple relocated to Utica, N.Y., before Bern joined the U.S. Navy, and subsequently fought in World War II.

The Keatings returned to the South after the war, eventually settling in Greenville, where the couple opened a studio, which thrived on freelance and magazine contract work.
Initially, Bern was at the photographic helm of the business, but Franke longed to become more involved with the art. Eventually, the couple would switch roles, leaving Keating more in the photographer’s seat, and her husband took over the writing aspect of their work.

Franke with Parker Reily at the 2007 Keating Cookie Party

The couple traveled the world over the next 50 years, flying off into the wild blue yonder, traveling to far away lands, going on safari and meeting new and exciting adventures head on.

In 1995, Franke and Bern received the Special Achievement Award from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters.

Keating’s importance to Greenville and the Delta is reflected in the comments of Greenville mayor Heather McTeer, who viewed her as an icon.

“She was an amazing woman, who showcased the Delta with her talents,” McTeer said. “I loved her adventureous side. She was a classic lady but was unafraid to go anywhere, or meet anyone.

“I also loved her grace. I usually saw her at local arts events and everytime, she always gave me a warm hug and kiss on both cheeks. Mrs. Keating was really special to Greenville.”

One of the things Franke loved the most was her Christmas cookie party, a Delta tradition for more than 50 years.

Franke and Bern up with the idea for the Cookie Party after visiting the home of a friend one Christmas where they admired the beautiful ornaments on the tree.  The Keatings decided to open their home and have children come to decorate ornaments for the birds to enjoy to be hung on trees in their yard. Over the years, the event grew to be more of a grownup party.  But Franke says she wanted a tradition for the children, “not a cocktail party!”

It was then that Franke literally sketched out several designs.  She took her drawings to a local blacksmith shop and had cookie cutters made.  To her surprise, the blacksmith made the cookie cutters out of copper. She promptly told him not to send her the bill until after New Year’s; she didn’t want to spoil her holiday.

When my family and I lived in Greenville, we were always invited to the Cookie Party, and my children always enjoyed the fun and frolicking at Ms Franke’s

Franke was one of the kindest and most talented people I ever met. She will be greatly missed.

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.

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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

Elvis is dead and there’s a reason Glanville isn’t in the NFL

October 3rd, 2011 4 comments

I just got an email that said former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville is coming to Jackson Wednesday to meet with city officials and business leaders to discuss the potential for a Jackson-based United Football League expansion team to participate in the 2012 season.

Former NFL coach Jerry Glanville wants to bring a half-baked pro football franchise football to Mississippi

When Glanville was in the NFL, he dressed in black and left tickets at will call for Elvis. There’s no doubt he will make some reference to Elvis while he is in town.

Folks in Mississippi need to remind Glanville that Elvis is dead and so is his football career. He was a terrible coach then, and Mississippi doesn’t need him coming to try and suck dry the local businesses he would try to con into believing he will be bringing big-time football to Mississippi.

Glanville should be told that Friday night high school football is bigger than any product he may want to bring to town.

Businesses in Mississippi should stay away from the blood-sucking tactics of this minor league sports league with characters like Glanville, who is trying to hang onto a career that wasn’t very good to begin with.

We should know better.

Since the Halloween season is upon us, Glanville and his monsters should be reminded that unaffiliated minor league sports don’t work in Mississippi, ever.

To take from an editorial in the Mississippi Business Journal a few weeks ago that Coach Glanville should read, here is a partial list of the minor league corpses left throughout the towns and cities of Mississippi.

Here is a partial list of the carcuses from the last 15 years:
Minor league hockey has come and gone — twice — in Tupelo.
Minor league hockey has come and gone — twice — in Biloxi.
Minor league hockey has come and gone in Jackson.
Minor league hockey has come and gone in Southaven.
Minor league football has come and gone — twice— in Tupelo.
Minor league baseball has come and gone in Tupelo (twice), Greenville, Meridian (twice), Booneville, Jackson (twice), Hattiesburg.
Minor league basketball has come and gone in Jackson, Tupelo, Greenville, Southaven, Hattiesburg, Biloxi and Meridian.
There is not one minor league sports team open for business today in Mississippi, except for the Mississippi Braves, which is a Double-A affiliate of the MLB Atlanta Braves.
But, Mississippians have been ready to jump at the chance that minor league baseball could harness energy and spending in their communities. The problem is almost all were dealing with independent leagues and mostly questionable business folks, who promised the stars and spun a good yarn, but, in most cases, never produced any kind of substantial business plan.

Coach Glanville, there will be no resurrection of Elvis in Mississippi.

You might want to try Kalamazoo.

The release that was sent out early Monday stated,

This week on Wednesday, October 5, former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville will visit Jackson, Mississippi, to meet with city officials and business leaders to discuss the potential for a Jackson-based United Football League expansion team to participate in the 2012 season.

Coach Glanville, who was the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons (1986-1989) and Houston Oilers (1990-1993) performs an advisory role with the United Football League and is leading the league’s expansion initiative.

He will visit Jackson, MS, Salt Lake City, UT, and Chattanooga, TN, in the coming weeks to explore interest in those cities welcoming a UFL expansion team for the 2012 season. The ownership of the new team that joins the Las Vegas Locomotives, Omaha Nighthawks, Sacramento Mountain Lions and Virginia Destroyers in the UFL will have the opportunity to appoint Jerry Glanville as its head coach.

Coach Glanville is available for media interviews on Wednesday afternoon and also by phone. Please contact me if you are interested in talking to Jerry and I will look for an opening in his schedule, which is being finalized.

Coach will travel to Jackson from Sacramento, where he called the Saturday night game between the hometown Mountain Lions and Virginia Destroyers in front of 17,612 fans.

Please let me know if you require more information on the UFL including photos, logos and game footage. There is also information at www.UFL-Football.com.

About The United Football League: The UFL provides high-quality professional football during a traditional fall season while embracing innovation and fan interaction. The UFL serves its local communities with pride and dedication, and aims to provide every fan with an exciting and memorable game experience. The inaugural 2009 champion Las Vegas Locos won a second championship in 2010, lifting the William Hambrecht Trophy with a 23-20 win over the Florida Tuskers. The 2011 season kicked off on September 15 and features the Locos, Omaha Nighthawks, Sacramento Mountain Lions and Virginia Destroyers. The UFL is led by Commissioner Michael Huyghue and is funded by a consortium of private investors. For season tickets, more information and to interact with passionate football fans, please visit www.UFL-Football.com.

I talked with politician with a mind of his own

September 30th, 2011 Comments off

Toeing the party line has gotten to be the way we do business these days.
But it was refreshing to hear there are some, at least one, that is bucking the trend to follow along like a herd of cattle.
I was talking to someone this week who is running for office. He was giving me the general breakdown that he feels good about where he is in the campaign and that he thinks he can win when Nov. 8 rolls around.
The thing that was refreshing, though, is that when his party tried to manhandle him into running his campaign in the same cookie-cutter format it was having the rest of its candidates run, he said no.
Apparently, the dinosaurs in charge were not particularly happy with his decision.
“When all is said and done,” he said. “I have to make decisions based on the overall good of my district. If I start cowtowing now to the will of the established system, we will never move forward, as a district and then as a state and a society.”
He is absolutely right.
One-size fits all really doesn’t.
What works in New York doesn’t necessarily work in Mississippi and what works in Gulfport doesn’t necessarily work in Greenville or Hattiesburg or Columbus.
We need more people in office who will think for themselves and make decisions based on the good of the people and the state and not, specifically, (Dean Kirby) on the impact said decisions might make on their colleagues during the next election cycle.

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

Netflix is taking the bull by the horns while newspapers wait for their base readers to die

September 20th, 2011 Comments off

In a recent blog post, I found it interesting what one media observer related about the newspaper industry in a comparison with Netflix …

Unfortunately for newspapers and other publishers with legacy businesses, they have to make the transition somehow, and the glacial pace that most of the industry has taken — which amounts to waiting for existing print subscribers to die of natural causes and thereby solve the problem — isn’t really cutting it. They can change quickly and risk the kind of customer uproar that Netflix is experiencing, or they can move slowly and be disrupted. At least Netflix is trying to disrupt itself instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

You can read the entire blog post here.

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.

Right out of ‘Swamp People': Greenville gator nabbed

August 11th, 2011 Comments off

An 11-foot American Alligator was captured on the streets of Greenville …

11-foot ‘gator nabbed prowling Greenville streets

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) — A Mississippi wildlife department sergeant and six others caught an 11-foot-alligator prowling the streets of Greenville.

Master Sgt. Hugh Johnson told The Delta Democrat-Times (http://bit.ly/ntYfBM) that a Washington County Sheriff’s deputy spotted the alligator while patrolling Wednesday morning.

The alligator was to be released at the Pearl River Wildlife Management area in Madison County.

“He’s a reminder that where there is one, there are others. This must be taken very seriously. They can hurt you,” said Johnson, who was bitten on his right thumb earlier this year by one of the reptiles.

“These animals are hungry,” said Johnson. “They will eat anything that gets in their way.”

Johnson advised residents not to feed alligators and to call authorities if they spot one.

“I can’t emphasize enough on how important it is to call someone if they spot one of these things,” he said. “They are very dangerous.”

Phil Bryant does it again

August 3rd, 2011 Comments off

In a video interview with the Mississippi Business Journal, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, whom we endorsed for governor, said he would like to see a new nuclear power plant at the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi.
Really?
Well, I would love to see a NASCAR track built in Mississippi, but I don’t have a plan in place to make that happen, and even if I did, it would take 20 or 30 years to get it done.
Oh, that was Phil that said he wanted a NASCAR track in Mississippi but offered no specifics on how to get it done?
Sorry.
Hey, I’ve got a great idea.
Since Monsanto is all about changing the natural order of seeds to make money, maybe the world’s largest loan shark would manipulate a seed so that it only produces money. Then, Mississippi could just grow money and not worry about anything else.
Oh yeah, Monsanto already did that.
It’s called the corn plant.

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