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‘Just say yes’ to recruiting new industry

U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (l-r), MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce president Duane O’Neill, National Economic Council director Dr. Larry Lindsey and Brown Bottling Group president and chamber board chairman Bill Brown visit at the Metro Jackson Economic Symposium.

JACKSON — It was the same old song and dance on March 28 for the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce’s Metro Jackson Economic Symposium: It’s going to take more education and workforce training to pull the state’s rural areas out of the depression they have settled into.

The room full of legislators and businesspeople who attended the symposium at the Country Club of Jackson, was hushed as state economist Phil Pepper spoke about the gloom that has surrounded Mississippi since the state’s loss of 25,000 manufacturing jobs over the past two years.

Mississippi, Pepper said, was on a roll during the early 1990s, but by the end of the decade the state’s weaknesses in workforce training and education were apparent.

“We need more than just jobs,” Pepper said. “We have to change the idea in the state to lifelong learning and going back to school.”

Depending on whether or not people’s attitudes on workforce training and education change in the future, Pepper said, will determine what will happen to the state’s rural areas.

Also on hand for the symposium was U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss), who called his own attitude about the state positive and aggressive.

Business and government leaders should “just say yes,” he said, when it comes to recruiting new industry to Mississippi.

Lott (R-Miss), said the three areas Mississippi should focus to improve are economic development, education and infrastructure.

Duane O’Neill, president of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, said the thing that strikes him the most about Lott is the amount of dollars he has helped bring into the state — about $8.99 billion.

“That just blows my mind,” O’Neill said. “And if that weren’t enough, our transportation projects that the senator has been involved with tallies up to $760 million. So when you add that and all the grants that come to the cities and the school districts you’ll see why he’s been at the heart of our economy and the heart of everybody that’s in this room here today.”

Dr. Lawrence B. Lindsey, director of the National Economic Council at the White House, said things seem to be looking up nationally. He predicted a 3% growth increase in the current quarter, brought on partly by tax cuts and the President’s economic plan that encourages the expansion of companies, as well as the increase of company workforces and companies’ increased investment in more modern equipment.

“We have our problems,” Lindsey admitted, but, “If I had to pick the economic problems anywhere on earth I’d pick America’s.”

Joe Carden, state president of AmSouth, said Lott said it all in his speech. “Improve education, infrastructure and economic development: everything else takes care of itself.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.


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