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Where will our rank be after the next four years?

September 15th, 2011 1 comment

Bob Barker

Taking a page from the “Price is Right” game show, maybe the Oct. 14 gubernatorial debate at The Mississippi College School of Law should be named “The Rank is Right.”
When gubernatorial candidates Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant and Hattiesburg Democratic Mayor Johnny DuPree square off in Jackson, the scheduled 90-minute, made-for-TV event could be boiled down to three questions.
>> Mississippi is currently ranked 50th in the country in healthcare. Where will it be after your four years (then eight years) in office?
>> Mississippi is currently ranked 50th in the country in education. Where will it be after your four years (then eight years) in office?
>> Mississippi is currently ranked 50th in the country in per capita personal income. Where will it be after your four years (then eight years) in office?
No double talk. No long-winded, heart-tugging stories about children or old people or family values or Tea Party economics.
We just want short answers.
Responses should be no more than two numbers.
When asked the question, we will be looking for a response like, “42” or “35” or “27”.
It will be easy to keep score at a debate like this. Plus, after four years, there will be no doubt whether Candidate A or Candidate B has been successful during his time in office.
Maybe Bob Barker or Drew Carey could moderate.

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

Changes hit Laurel Leader-Call but newspaper industry holds important place

September 2nd, 2011 1 comment

Every time, I have a tough day at work, I take a look at the trailer for “Page One” about the New York Times, and I get a little more energized. While I haven’t seen the complete documentary yet, I understand that regardless of what happens in new world media, serious newspapers will always have a place in this world.

Do we really think Facebook is going to cover your local Board of Supervisors meetings?

I think not.

So, Friday, when I saw the Laurel Leader-Call is changing from seven-day to a four-day publication, I was saddened, but I know — deep down — that newspaper will be OK.

The economy and new world media may have eaten away at profits during the years, but do we really think the local TV station is going to cover everything that Laurel has going on? Oh yeah, there is no local TV station in Laurel. Are all of the folks on Facebook in Laurel going to hold the mayor accountable with investigative stories? I’m saying no.

And in 140 characters or less, will the tweeters of Laurel be able to handle the news of the day?

The fact is your local newspaper, while it may not be The New York Times or the Chicago Tribune or the Washington Post, it probably does a pretty good job of keeping you up on the real news affecting the area readership. Reading the stories about the board of supervisors or the local police department may not always be riveting, but it’s the local newspaper everyone calls when they feel like there is a fly in the ointment of local government.

Newspapers, like the Laurel Leader-Call, are a necessary part of our everyday lives. Don’t believe Facebook or any other new media will take its place.

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.

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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When all is said and done, ‘Snarky’ Planet Money got it right

July 14th, 2011 Comments off

Adam Davidson, an NPR reporter on “Planet Money,” has received a pile of criticism for his look into the economic development industry, in which he finally concluded, “They are not creating jobs. They are just moving jobs around.”
From there, everyone became defensive and lost perspective as the story received a rebuttal by International Economic Development Council president Jeffrey A. Finkle and pointed criticism by NPR.
“This American Life” senior producer Julie Snyder and Davidson attended a meeting of the International Economic Developers Council in San Diego and came away saying, “Now we have this race to bottom: Who can cut back government services the most? Who can eliminate the most regulation?”
In his rebuttal, Finkle said, “I feel even more hurt by the piece as I rolled out the red carpet for you guys. It is as if I held a dinner party, invited you as guests, told everyone how important you were and then had you insult all of my guests.”
Ira Glass, the show’s host and one of its editors, lamented that the tone in the report had gotten out of hand and “that the tone was a bit snarky.”
But was the report accurate?
It is not the job of a reporter to make people feel warm and fuzzy; it is to report accurately with insight and perspective.
In this case, Davidson and Snyder lost their audience with a “snarky” tone, but when you dig beneath the surface, they had a point.
It did a great job discussing the “numbers” gaming aspects, short-term focus, and special interests of economic development organizations.
One urban planner commented that over years in the business, she is “frankly weary of boosterism.”
Many ED organizations out there are doing a fine job and in some forms in a tough economy, but the planner pointed out the she has experienced, “first hand the spin and lack of substance to many of the claims made in the field. I have been astonished at reports to the community claiming this or that ‘win.’ ”
My thought is there was a point made in the story, even if it was lost in the hurt feelings of those involved.
But the overwhelming point, which no one rebutted, was the conclusion of the report where Davidson noted, “education is the key and we are cutting off our legs by de-funding it from K to college.”
Sound like any place you know?

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

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Homebuilders endorse Reeves for Lt. Governor

July 13th, 2011 1 comment

The Home Builders Association of Jackson has endorsed Tate Reeves’ candidacy for Lt. Governor. In an e-mail statement, President Wade Quin is credited with noting Reeve’s “experience as a conservative money manager” and his success “in protecting taxpayers as Mississippi’s State Treasurer.”

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Dupree charges, takes lead in MBJ Poll

July 13th, 2011 1 comment

You can decide whether it has anything to do with Congressman Bennie Thompson giving his endorsement yesterday, but Hatiesburg mayor Johnny Dupree has charged ahead of Clarksdale businessman Bill Luckett in the Mississippi Business Journal poll, which asks “Who will be the Democratic nominee for governor?” … Click here to see the results

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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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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.