While the jobs numbers are improving, it’s not enough, especially here in Mississippi. We have long fought the battle to bring jobs to the state. OUR numbers have been against us: low scores on our education system, high numbers on the dropout rate, high poverty rates, low growth in population, limits on urban areas. This is a tough time for economic development anywhere. It’s especially tough in Mississippi.
Enter Jim Barksdale, former boy genius and tech guru who was on the front lines of the internet explosion with Netscape and AOL. Barksdale was educated in Jackson public schools and found his way to the upper echelons of high-tech business. And he came home to Mississippi.
Barksdale’s leading cause? Education. With his Barksdale Institute and his philanthropy, he has walked the walk. Barksdale understands that economic development goes hand-in-hand with an educated workforce, and educating our workforce is a long-term endeavor, not for the faint of heart.
So Gov. Bryant wisely appointed him to head the Mississippi Development Authority, and some cried foul. Had Barksdale ever “done” economic development? Was this just a political move?
I think it’s time to hang up the old model of economic development and try on one more fit for the 21st century. We should adopt a long-term view, with an emphasis on education. We should work with any entity available to make the internet accessible to every corner of our state. We should teach our citizens to fish, by showing them how to use technology to reach far-flung customers, whether from the cotton fields of the Delta or the pine forests of East Mississippi.
Jim Barksdale may not have “done” economic development, but he has lived in the worlds of business and technology long enough to know what works. I say we give him the room and support to try a few new things. What have we got to lose?
Nancy Lottridge Anderson, Ph.D., CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Ridgeland — (601) 991-3158. She is also an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi College. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her website is www.newper.com.