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Top 40 winners are Mississippi`s future

As I See It

With this week`s issue, the Mississippi Business Journal begins its annual search for the top 40 Mississippians under age 40 – Top 40 Under 40. Friends and business associates nominate candidates for this recognition, our staff will arduously assimilate the candidate`s achievements and our judges will choose the recipients.

This is my fourth year to be involved with the Top 40 program. For each of the last three years I have studied the record of the 150 or so nominees and have been humbled by the experience. Mississippi is blessed with some outstanding young people who are moving mountains to benefit themselves, their families and their communities.

Merely doing a good job at work will not gain you admission to the Top 40 Under 40 crowd; that is a given. No, a successful candidate must do much more than merely what is expected. You probably can`t win it by being a full-time volunteer. The judges like to see someone holding a paying-job and toting a full load of community work and having a successful family life as well. This is truly an extraordinary group!

Why do they do it? Conventional wisdom holds that there is much more opportunity outside our state than there is in it. Why have these achievers chosen to live in Mississippi?

Let us agree at the outset that staying in Mississippi has been a conscious decision. Any of the Top 40 nominees could have chosen to leave the state and would have found success somewhere else.

Let us further agree that their conscious decision to be here probably did not turn on money considerations alone. The bright lights of Atlanta, Houston or perhaps even Birmingham, usually offer a higher starting salary than a comparable job in Mississippi. I think the salary disparity diminishes as one moves up the experience ladder, but initially, starting salaries are higher elsewhere.

What about cultural events? Sporting events? Admittedly, Mississippians and others in the Deep South have an obsessive love of football, however the lack of support shown toward the professional baseball teams that have headquartered in Jackson imply that love of sports is team specific, not general. The international ballet competition in Jackson is a big deal, but it only happens every four years. Though the casinos have added a whole new dimension to entertainment in Mississippi, I just don`t think any of our Top 40 candidates are here for the state`s reputation as an entertainment and cultural mecca.

I think I know the answer though.

Blake Wilson assumed command of the Mississippi Economic Council on May 1 this year. Blake is a native of Delaware and, most recently, lived in Florida where he was engaged in a similar line of work.

When he first came to Mississippi, Blake (quite wisely, in my view) set out to learn about Mississippi first-hand. He has traveled all over the state, meeting with small groups and getting to know Mississippi. Blake tells me that almost invariably, at every meeting, in response to the question of “what makes Mississippi different,” someone always responds “it`s the people.” And that, my friends, is the “bottom line.”

At the risk of bad manners resulting from quoting myself, I have repeatedly declared from this column and other platforms that Mississippi people are the best. I believe that answers the question of why top quality young people choose to settle and contribute here. To paraphrase the 1992 Clinton campaign mantra, “it`s the people, stupid.”

Perhaps it took a Yankee to grasp the uniqueness that separates Mississippi from other places. I appreciate Blake sharing his experience with me and hope that he doesn`t mind me calling him a Yankee. Though he has lived in Florida for a number of years and Delaware has never been able to decide whether it is Northern or Southern, if you ain`t born in “deep south” Dixie, you`re a Yankee. If he stays here for five years, he can apply to become an honorary Southerner.

While I`m am on this tear, I want to point out an error in a recent column by Jack Criss, publisher of the Metro Business Review. Jack said that he was the only “native born” newspaper publisher in this area. I beg to differ. I was born on West Capitol Street in west Jackson in 1948 and if that don`t make me “native born,” I`ll eat a copy of Jack`s next issue. Actually, I question whether he is “native born.” He never uses “ain`t” in his columns!

Thought for the Moment

The mark of a true MBA is that he is often wrong but seldom in doubt.

– Robert Buzzell, author and speaker

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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