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State business leaders list their hopes/fears for the decades ahead

Fast-forward: What will Mississippi be like in the year 2020?

There is plenty of talk about the year 2000 (Y2K). In fact, by the end of the year, people may be as sick of Y2K stories as they are of the current Clinton-Lewinsky mess.

Traditionally, newspapers publish articles in January predicting what is ahead for the year. But this time the Mississippi Business Journal decided to focus instead on a longer-range outlook. We asked state business leaders what their biggest hopes — and fears — are for Mississippi in the year 2020. The responses show that leaders have been thinking about long-range plans and have big expectations for the future of Mississippi and the rest of the country.

Population growth will have

tremendous impact in U.S.

Dr. Marianne Hill, senior economist with the Institutions of Higher Learning and editor of the state’s Economic Review and Outlook, says that two main long-term trends shaping the world economy and Mississippi have to do with population growth. The population of the country is growing rapidly, and the non-white population is growing the most rapidly. That will change the demographic makeup of the U.S. and, potentially, the governing bodies at the local, state and national levels.

“That will change the composition of the labor force and, hopefully, will also change public attitudes,” Hill said. “I hope that will mean we will become more tolerant of different cultures, and that we will be more accepting of women in public office.”

Impact of technology

The area of communication is changing so rapidly that it is expected to result in many changes, causing the death of some businesses. For example, futurists predict that by 2020 we will no longer have video stores. Instead, people will be able to order movies over the Internet or a faster equivalent through the cable television lines.

“Banking and everything else is undergoing massive change with this new technology,” Hill said. “This then leads to the need for new skills. We will get more companies in Mississippi that will help you find the kinds of information and services that will best serve your needs.”

Hill believes the technology revolution will also increase educational opportunities, particularly for people in rural areas of the state. She also stresses the need for increased research and development, and not only for technical areas like science and engineering. The state also need to improve capacity for research and development in areas such as marketing and management.

Maintaining quality of life

Pete Walley, director of the Bureau of Long-Range Economic Planning at the Institutions of Higher Learning University Research Center, said Mississippi should focus on maintaining its culture and quality of life while competing in the global economy.

“The positive thing about being behind is that we can look and see what mistakes other states have made in trying to further economic development positions, and not make those mistakes,” Walley said. “The term quality of life is broader than just having a job and going to work. We’re talking about all the things that make a person whole or a part of the environment that we live in. That’s a tough concept to the hard-core economic developer. It is really more than just recruiting industry. It is trying to understand what types of industry and economy do we want and still maintain Mississippi. That’s the real opportunity that we have. “

Walley said it is important to establish that economic development and quality of life complement each other, and understanding that will go a long ways toward having the kind of lifestyle that other states will want to emulate.

Cutting consumption, finding happiness

State residents could also benefit by learning that more isn’t always better.

“When we look at the consumption patterns that other areas have that we want, it is clear that we have to learn how to have the quality of life we want and not be tied so closely to hard-core consumption,” Walley said. “I’m saying that in global sense. The U.S. has 6% of the world’s population, and represents 35% to 40% of total world consumption. There is a limit to the amount of consumption we can have, and still maintain the quality of life. Quality of life is bigger than just material things. If we can learn to complement and work that in to economic development, we will jump ahead of a lot of people.”

Forget ‘business as usual’

Walley’s biggest fear for Mississippi is that the state won’t adjust to the rapidly changing world and will just keep doing business as usual.

Keeping pace with growth is going to be a major challenge in the decades ahead, said Jeff Taylor, planning director for the Gulf Regional Planning Commission on the Coast. He said if the Coast continues its current accelerated growth pace, few of us may recognize it in 20 years.

“Since we don’t even know what the physical dream will look like, my hope is the present-day leadership and future leadership will not forget about the need to balance all phases in our community from economic to environment to social and cultural,” Taylor said. “It is quite a challenge to maintain that balance, the quality-of-life grade that we will end up with. So it is going to be tough in a very fast-growing economy to maintain the things that were the essence of the growth anyhow: What we had prior to gaming, which is location, natural environmental assets, cultural assets. Those are the things that enticed the gaming industry to focus their development on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”

A bigger picture

George Schloegel, president of Hancock Bank, said his greatest hope for the Coast is that it becomes more unified in planning and operations for day-to-day life.

“I believe that the Coast needs to be handled as a single area when we look at economic development, quality of life, education, transportation, residential development, commercial development and industrial development,” Schloegel said. “The right minds need to come to the table to determine what is the right thing to do.”

Schloegel’s greatest fear is that there won’t be cooperation, and the Coast will become little islands of people trying to operate independently.

“And in doing so, we are going to spoil our nest,” he said. “I’m terrified of that.”

Terry Carter, president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, said his wish list for 2020 includes a four-year university on the Gulf Coast, and seeing the entire coastal area become a major tourist destination attracting visitors from all over the world.

Education is also key.

“By the year 2020 I would like to see our school district capable of producing graduates who are competitive throughout the U.S., and to require second languages be taught to every high school student,” Carter said.

Carter envisions a future where the Coast communities work on a cooperative basis with Alabama, Louisiana and Florida to grow our economies on a regional basis.

“State lines are imaginary boundaries that hold us back,” he said. “We’ve got to quit being competitive with one another and be cooperative to see how we can grow our economies on a regional scale.”

Carter’s worst nightmare would be a major economic recession.


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