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Workforce training, health care, transportation and economic development issues hot topics for meeting

Full agenda set for MEC forum

Next month, business leaders will have a chance to shape the future of Mississippi.

Oct. 6, the Mississippi Economic Council will host Issues Forum 2000 at the Jackson Hilton Hotel that will focus on workforce training issues, health care trends, transportation concerns and economic development issues.

“During the past year, the MEC has criss-crossed Mississippi, met with and listened to more than 1,000 business and political leaders in every section and region and identified eight foundational issues,” said Blake Wilson, MEC president. “Now, we’ve narrowed it down to three foundational issues with an overriding issue in economic development. Last year, we took the macro approach. This year, we’re taking the micro approach. We’re digging deeper and laying out strategies.”

Dwight Evans, president of Mississippi Power Company and chairman of the Mississippi Workforce Board, and Bob Knight, president of the National Association of Workforce Boards, will lead a discussion panel on implications of the federal Workforce Investment Act of 1998, a new law that requires states to coordinate and plan implementation of a workforce development system of 14 federal programs.

“We have a myriad of agencies delivering workforce training with limited coordination,” Wilson said. “It’s very clear these efforts need to be consolidated. That doesn’t necessarily mean eliminating agencies. Agencies often have to be separate because there are unique local needs. For instance, if a community college is not geographically close for training needs, it may be more appropriate to offer programs through the local vo-ed system. However, the coordination of these resources needs to be through a single point. When you’re looking at bringing a company into this state, training is critical, and we can’t go through 20 people to decide if the job can be done. One person needs to say, yes, we can do it.”

Thomas J. Brosig, president of Mid-South Region of Park Place Entertainment in Gulfport, Bill Baker, vice president of human resources for Grand Casino Tunica and Danny Brunt, vice president of human relations and training for Kosciusko-based Ivey Mechanical Company, are scheduled to man a panel discussion on adapting to workforce challenges.

Dr. Briggs Hopson, president of Mississippi Medical Association, state senator Willie Simmons, vice chairman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, and Ed Whitten, manager of benefits and sales for Arthur J. Gallaher Co. in Jackson, are slated for a panel discussion on Mississippi health care trends.

“In many parts of the state, there is essentially no managed health care, and the place of last resort for medical care is the emergency room, which is very, very costly,” Wilson said. “In addition, because we’re short on physicians in some areas of the state, we don’t have some of the same preventative medicine. Without early detection, there are problems.”

Jeff Barber, president of North Mississippi Health Services in Tupelo, Jimmy Blessett, administrator of South Sunflower County Hospital in Indianola, Kurt Metzer, CEO of Baptist Health Systems in Jackson and Bill Oliver, executive director of Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, will talk about escalating health care costs.

“Because of the Balanced Budget Act, the way we fund health care for Medicare and indigent care has put a critical strain on rural hospitals,” Wilson said. “It has hit Mississippi real hard. The health care industry is going through a very, very critical shift. Employers will be able to see and understand that these costs have been shifted to the private sector, such as increased insurance rates to cover higher costs.”

David King, deputy secretary for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, will man the forum on transportation initiatives. North Carolina is recognized as a leader among southeastern states in improved intermodal transportation systems – rail, air, water, highways and public transportation. King, Billy McCoy and Zack Stewart, highway commissioner for the northern district of the Mississippi Department of Transportation, will panel a discussion on meeting Mississippi’s transportation needs.

“Our biggest challenge in transportation is to find a mechanism to accelerate progress in high growth areas and to give a shot in the arm to rural areas without creating too much debt for the state,” Wilson said. “The highway program passed in 1987 was a brilliant visionary plan. Nobody would’ve believed we would have gone through the economic boom the state has experienced. Coming up with a solution will take the same kind of break-through thinking that occurred when that program was put together.”

Barry Shier, president and CEO of Beau Rivage, and gubernatorial candidates Lt. Governor Ronnie Musgrove and former U.S. Congressman Mike Parker are scheduled to speak at the Issues Forum 2000 luncheon.

For more information, contact MEC at (601) 969-0022 or 1-800-748-7626.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com or mbj@msbusiness.com.


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