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Charter schools, Medicaid expansion hot topics at Jackson stop of Gunn’s Ideas Tour

October 8th, 2012 No comments

Among the most popular suggestions at the Jackson stop of House Speaker Phillip Gunn’s Mississippi Solutions – An Ideas Tour were the need for the state to expand the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, and the lack of need for charter schools.

More than 100 people and a handful of legislators joined Gunn at the Capitol to kick off his 9-city, week-long trek across the state to gather ideas and input from citizens about how to move the state forward and improve quality of life.

“We’re trying to bring the Legislature to them,” Gunn, R-Clinton, said.

Out of 16 people who offered their thoughts, three asked Gunn and the lawmakers to expand the state’s Medicaid program as part of the Affordable Care Act. In its June decision upholding the ACA, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the option of expanding their Medicaid programs, but would not incur penalties for not doing so.

Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves have said since that expanding Mississippi’s program would be cost-prohibitive because it would add nearly 400,000 people to the rolls. Gunn has promised to examine the issue once the session starts. He reiterated that stance after Monday’s event.

Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, was among the pro-Medicaid expansion crowd, saying refusing to do so could erect barriers to quality healthcare, and increase uncompensated care costs for hospitals. “Some of those hospitals could be forced to close,” Sivak said.

George Schimmel, who sits on the Jackson Public Schools board of trustees but said he was speaking as a citizen, said legislators should be careful when considering charter school legislation to ensure that traditional public schools are not unnecessarily harmed.

“Weakening traditional public schools weakens communities,” he said.

Bryant has said charter school legislation would be near the top of his list of priorities when the 2013 session starts in January. A charter school bill died last session when a group of DeSoto County Republicans coalesced to kill it in committee.

A state’s power to govern itself was the focus of Laura VanOverschelde’s idea. “We’re experiencing a loss in state sovereignty,” said VanOverschelde, the vice president of the Mississippi Tea Party and the organization’s issues chairman. “We’re seeing a federal government that wants to take over the lives of people.” VanOverschelde urged lawmakers to consider legislation that would assert Mississippi’s sovereignty.

Other ideas included state assistance for nonprofits providing financial education to the poor, clarifying statutes governing state control of 16th section land, an increase in the tax on wine, a smoke-free workplace bill, increasing the state retirement age, small business tax reform, and cheaper access to prescription drugs taken to treat multiple sclerosis.

Gunn’s tour was headed to Greenwood and Hernando later Monday. It wraps up Friday in Brookhaven with stops in Tupelo, Columbus, Meridian, Hattiesburg and Biloxi in-between. The full schedule can be viewed here.

Categories: Phil Bryant, Phillip Gunn, Tate Reeves Tags:

Under Armour SVP: Co. still embraces underdog role

October 4th, 2012 No comments

In the late ‘90s, when Under Armour was brand new and not making much money, company founder and CEO Kevin Plank used a connection to outfit with his apparel the stars and extras of the film “Any Given Sunday.”

The exposure once the film, which starred Jamie Foxx and Al Pacino and told the story of a fictional pro football franchise, hit the big screen would be priceless. There was a problem, though.

“Unless they knew what it was beforehand, people were going to think that our logo was a movie prop,” said Steve Battista, senior vice president, brand creative, for Baltimore-based Under Armour.

The solution: Under Armour would place an ad in an upcoming issue of another fledgling venture, ESPN The Magazine. But that created another problem: there was no way to pay for it.

To fix that, all 15 Under Armour employees agreed to give up two paychecks so Plank could afford the $30,000 vertical ad that covered only one-third of one page. Among the workers was a seamstress who lived in a tent with her husband because they couldn’t afford a house.

The ad made it to print, “Any Given Sunday” scored big at the box office and Under Armour took a giant leap forward.

Battista, one of the first 20 people hired at Under Armour, told that story as part of his presentation Thursday morning at the Fall Forum at Millsaps College’s Else School of Management.

Under Armour has moved past scraping together capital to market itself. In 2011, the company did $1.5 billion in sales while employing 5,000 people worldwide, and has become as recognizable as Nike, the sports apparel industry’s alpha dog.

Reaching that point required a ton of work and a lot of luck, Battista said. Under Armour had to build its brand, telling a good story in the process. An example of that is the company’s first marketing slogan that stuck: “We Must Protect This House.”

Battista, who developed the slogan and the campaign built around it, said each perfectly reflected the attitude of the company in the early 2000s. “We knew the big guys were going to come after us,” he told the crowd at the Leggett Special Events Center. “The equipment managers at the schools we worked with, our retailers, everybody told us that our competitors were going to start selling their stuff at a loss so they could get rid of us. They could afford to do that, and we knew it.”

Under Armour knew it had to counter, so its way of introducing itself to consumers who defaulted to Nike or Adidas for sportswear was to make a statement that, even if it wasn’t intentional, doubled as a promise.

“We had a brand and we had a story to tell,” Battista said.

As it moves to cut into Nike’s share of the global marketplace – the company this year opened its first store in China — the underdog role is one Under Armour still embraces. “We’re still a bootstrap company,” Battista said. “We love for our employees, especially the rookies, to come in and show us they can get after it, that they’ll fight. That’s what we’re all about.”

There’s no better personification of that, Battista said, than the seamstress who gave up money she and her husband desperately needed so Under Armour could start the process of becoming relevant as a brand. She still works at Under Armour.

“But now she has a big, nice house with a pool,” Battista said.

 

Hosemann tells Starkville group research incentive bill still in works

October 2nd, 2012 No comments

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has pushed the past two legislative sessions a bill that would provide a 10 percent tax credit to businesses that contract with Mississippi universities for technology-based research.

The bills have died in committee either in the House or the Senate.

Speaking in Starkville last week, Hosemann made it clear that he plans to try again when the 2013 session starts in January. Hosemann said that the study groups he assembles every year to study the state’s business laws and make recommendations to improve them are still working on the issue. Hosemann said he’s gotten support for the issue from officials at IHL, Ole Miss and the University of Southern Mississippi. A Starkville Daily News story on Hosemann’s entire speech can be read here.

Federal funds to pay for the kind of technology-based research Hosemann is talking about have all but disappeared over the past five years.

Hosemann’s research incentive bill wasn’t the only tax credit legislation that died at the Capitol last session. Hosemann also introduced a bill that would have offered tax credits to businesses that move their headquarters to Mississippi. Another would have allowed employers to pass through a job-creation tax credit to employees.

Tax credit legislation overall didn’t fare well last session. There were exceptions, the inventory tax phase-out being the most notable.

Categories: Delbert Hosemann Tags:

Choctaw, Webster, Montgomery counties plan economic development partnership

October 1st, 2012 No comments

When plans for a regional economic development organization in the Golden Triangle were unveiled last month, there was talk that similar set-ups would start to appear in other parts of Mississippi.

Since Sept. 14, two have been made public. Chickasaw County officials decided in late September that they would pursue a partnership with Pontotoc and Union counties. Monday afternoon, officials from Choctaw, Webster and Montgomery counties announced they were forming a union of their own.

Stone-Adams, a business development and consulting firm in Jackson, will handle economic development for the three counties as they form the partnership.

“This is a very good opportunity for Mississippi to show how collaboration and cooperation can provide a model for sustainable economic development,” Stone-Adams founder Nick Walters said in a press release.

The conglomeration will be called the Regional Economic Partnership of Mississippi when it starts operation, which should be by the end of the year, Walters said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. Walters said the idea arose about six months ago among supervisors from Choctaw and Webster counties as his firm’s professional services contract to handle economic development for Choctaw County was getting close to expiration. Montgomery County entered the discussion shortly thereafter.

Since then, each board of supervisors has voted to officially join the group.

Here’s the Mississippi Business Journal story about the Golden Triangle Regional Development LINK being a possible trendsetter.

Here’s Ross Reily’s column offering an endorsement to the idea of regionalism.

Banks, Waller promise fair, efficient Miss. Supreme Court

October 1st, 2012 No comments

Mississippi Supreme Court District 1 Candidates Bill Waller Jr. and Rep. Earle Banks touted different kinds of experience Monday as they made their case to about 50 people at a Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon.

Waller, the incumbent who serves as the court’s chief justice, said the entire court system has progressed since he was first elected to the bench in 1996.

The last seven circuit court districts that did not originally offer drug courts have either started them or are in the process of doing so, he said. Drug courts serve as an alternative sentencing for those charged with drug crimes. It does not require incarceration but subjects offenders to intense monitoring and drug screening.

Waller said the savings from those 3,000 people being in drug court instead of behind bars amounts to $38 million annually.

“But that’s not the reason to have it,” he said. “The reason to have it is the 350 graduates we have this year have a 70 percent success rate, of not going to prison.” The recidivism rate for those who follow the traditional path of incarceration and release is 70 percent, Waller said.

Expanding the Mississippi Electronic Courts pilot program and setting in place court user-funded pay raises for trial and appellate judges and district attorneys were things Waller listed as improving the efficiency and independence of the state’s courts.

Banks said his 40 years operating a funeral home in Jackson and 20 years as a state representative are proof that he’s a community –minded servant.

“It’s an honor to serve my neighbor,” Banks said.

Banks spent the majority of his speech promising to arrive at the supreme court with fairness and impartiality. “And I will follow the law and be open-minded on every issue, even if it’s one I either supported or opposed as a member of the Legislature.”

Banks also sang the praises of the state’s drug court system. He said he helped fellow Hinds County Rep. Alyce Clarke, D-Jackson, usher the bills establishing the program through the steps needed for passage. “That kind of legislative experience is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

If there was any tension between the two, it was when Banks pointed out that his campaign has not taken any money from political action committees. “That’s something we won’t do,” Banks said. “This campaign is about representing people.” Banks said his campaigns for election to the Legislature had accepted PAC money.

Waller has gotten endorsements and the requisite financial contributions from PACs representing almost every business group and trade organization in Mississippi, and from some outside the state.

Waller said that although he has not restricted such donations, he does not know who has or has not given them to his campaign. Keeping track of donors is something he leaves to campaign staff, he said.

“As long as we have elections, you’ve got to pay for the elections and contributions is how you do it.”

Waller has been endorsed by the state Republican Party. Banks, who serves as a Democrat in the House, has been endorsed by the state Democratic Party. Banks called the notion of political parties endorsing candidates in nonpartisan judicial elections “a farce. It is what it is, and it’s the law.”

“I think it’s a fact of life,” Waller said. “We’re in the vote-getting business.”