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Council outlines steps to rev up economy


Kristin Mamrack



A large crowd of Columbus business and community leaders Tuesday were presented with ideas, from the Mississippi Economic Council, to "make the most of a down economy and put Mississippi in a place of great opportunity." 


For the second stop on a "transformation tour" of 12 Mississippi cities, MEC officials presented comments, often by video, from local legislators and state officials, on education, transportation and other issues. 


"(The MEC) is dedicated to issues and solutions, not personalities," said 2009-2010 MEC Chairman Mayo Flynt, noting the MEC is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. "I think Columbus is positioned well to take advantage of the upturn when this economy starts to really chug forward." 


"Bedroom growth" is key to providing a good economic opportunity, said MEC President Blake Wilson, referring to communities where residents work, shop and dine in places other than those in which they live. 


He also noted a need to "eliminate the inventory tax in Mississippi," to "pass a tax cut now, to say (it''s effective) when revenues meet a certain level." 


"You''ve got to make cities and counties whole, through general funds and growth from other revenues," he added. "We''ve got to be more competitive and we''ve got to break some norms." 


"The 2010 legislative session will present unprecedented challenges to the state," Rep. Percy Watson, D-Hattiesburg, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means, told the assembled crowd, via video, noting legislators currently are "trying to manage a budget" for Fiscal Year 2011 and "find ways to stimulate spending in Mississippi." 


"It''s vitally necessary we get people back to work," he added. 


"Given today''s economy, we''ve got to do things differently," said Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Gray Swoope, also from a video, relaying a focus on "retention of jobs and creation of jobs." 


"We''ve got to be more innovative," he added, citing a need for "strategic partnerships." 


Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann spoke of a total revision of Mississippi''s limited liability corporation bill and a new tradename statute, as well as a "work out" bill, by which "businesses and debtors work out settlements to postpone debts" and avoid costly court sessions. 


"Clearly, Mississippi laws will be better than any state in the country," he said. 






Executive Director of The Mississippi Road Builders Association Mike Pepper noted most states aim to have 75 percent of the state''s roads classified as "good roads," but Mississippi only has 42 percent of "good roads" and 25 percent of the state''s bridges are structurally deficient or not functional. 


"We have shortfalls in road and bridge budgets," he said. "We should make the state''s roads and bridges the highest priority." 


"The point is we have to decide what are our priorities," said Wilson. 






Wilson spoke of "consolidation of services." 


"It''s something we''re going to take a very deliberative look at," he said of the idea of consolidating Mississippi University for Women into another college and consolidating neighboring school districts, noting the MEC is "supportive" of MUW President Claudia Limbert''s efforts to change the name of the university. "(But) it''s too soon to even think about what the numbers are (regarding consolidating schools)." 


Wilson also noted a need to "extend new (Mississippi) teachers'' service requirements" and to "improve teacher salaries." 


"Anticipated cuts will be very difficult for the system to absorb," Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Hank Bounds warned the group, via video, noting the Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning''s goal is "to create more and better graduates." 


"The community colleges of the state are the silver bullet to getting out of the recession quicker," said Eric Clark, executive director of the state Board of Community and Junior Colleges, referring to Mississippi''s community colleges as the "treasure" of the state and noting enrollment levels at community colleges are "booming." 


"This is a time of opportunity," said State Superintendent of Education Dr. Tom Burnham, via video presentation, speaking of an upcoming Children First Act, which will "provide a tool to remove management from failing school districts."




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