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Posts Tagged ‘Thad Cochran’

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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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.

Barksdale gets it when it comes to education

November 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale — an education advocate for Mississippi

Education is always the focus of former president and CEO of Netscape Jim Barksdale. Wherever he goes these days, he is singing the praises of Mississippi education.
So, it was interesting to hear Barksdale speak last week at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual Hobnob event, which came on the heels of the release of the national eighth grade reading in math scores.
Those scores have Mississippi firmly planted at No. 50 in the state rankings.
Yet, Barksdale says Mississippi children are making strides and that it is only a matter of time before the perception of Mississippi’s educational system is different.
The difference between Barksdale and other people who talk about education in Mississippi is that he has that business background to understand what, apparently, politicians do not.
Tough choices have to be made, Barksdale said, referring to teachers and administrators who aren’t living up to the standard our students deserve.
Barksdale is careful to point out that there are a significant number of teachers and administrators who are doing fantastic jobs, and believes making strides forward can be done.
He points to the Teach for America program, which has more volunteers in Mississippi than any other state.
In fact, Delta State University serves as the training ground for teachers for the entire country.
And that program is producing more good teachers and administrators than anything else Mississippi is doing right now.
Barksdale would like to see $12 million of the education budget devoted to help that program.
That’s not $12 million more dollars for education. Barksdale just wants to make sure that $12 million is allocated for that program and he believes the returns are worth the investment.
He is right.

>> RELATED VIDEO: Davis addresses Mississippi Council for Economic Education

>> RELATED STORY: Mississippians more optimistic about economy, education

>> RELATED STORY: Economist — Health, education key to economic growth

The bottom line is that teachers are the key to making the difference in Mississippi’s education.
And Barksdale would like to see a merit-based pay system to reward high-performing teachers.
Tough choices must be made and made now so that we can have better leadership for our future.
Barksdale is against having elected superintendents.
“You couldn’t run a business if you had to have elections for employees,” he said.
Appointing them is the way to go.
All of this won’t be easy and he knows that.
“Nobody likes change, but everybody likes progress.” Barksdale noted.
But he believes we can do it, because, in many cases, our public schools are achieving at a high level.
All of this takes money, and Barksdale stated many times he understands that money won’t buy an education for Mississippi’s kids, but, he said, “Money is essential, just not sufficient.”
Current levels of funding must be held firm is the message to the legislature, which should pay very close attention to Barksdale. He knows what he is doing.
It’s not just the future of the children at risk, it’s for all of us.
“Have faith in these little children,” Barksdale stresses.

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

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.

>> RELATED STORY: Barksdale gets it when it comes to education

>> RELATED VIDEO: Davis addresses Mississippi Council for Economic Education

>> RELATED STORY: Mississippians more optimistic about economy, education

>> RELATED STORY: Economist — Health, education key to economic growth

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

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.

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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