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Lynn Spruill: 48th and counting

 

Lynn Spruill

 

 

The Mississippi Business Journal recently did a story on the 2016 Forbes ranking of states for the best places to do business. Mississippi was ranked 48th. The way the headline was worded, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out they weren't actually bragging about that ranking. And yes, 50th is the worst not the best.  

 

There was some question by the Mississippi Development Authority that we were being disrespected in the analysis. You can't blame them. After all that reflects directly on their success in selling us to others. But this isn't really new news. 

 

The only states worse than Mississippi are West Virginia at 50th and Alaska at 49th. That's the bad news.  

 

The good news is that last year, 2015, we were ranked 49th with West Virginia as 50th. It would appear that we are improving. The even better news is that in 2014 we were 50th. The trend is good, one baby step at a time in the right direction.  

 

There are six main categories that factor into the determination of the Forbes list: labor supply, economic climate, growth prospects, business costs, regulatory environment and quality of life.  

 

The four we have been deficient in for the past three years are labor supply, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life.  

 

The report smiled on our labor costs, which in 2014 was 5.5% below the national average. Read that to mean that our citizens make less than most of the rest of the working nation. True then and true now. 

 

We continue to have the lowest median income of the 50 states.  

 

Let's juxtapose that against one of the factors cited as working against us: our poverty rate is the highest in the nation. It is an ironic and painful juxtaposition. 

 

Despite our labor cost being less than the national average, we still rank in the bottom three states for labor supply largely because our college and high school graduation rate is so poor.  

 

Doing a riff on the real estate maxim for what really matters, we need to focus on education, education, education. I am not feeling the love from the state on this particular issue given the funding levels from the current administration.  

 

Locally, I think we get it. I hope the Partnership school will be the catalyst that motivates the Legislature with regard to school funding.  

 

The second factor calculated to be in our favor was the generous incentive packages we dangle in front of businesses wanting to relocate here. Translate that to mean that we give away more taxpayer dollars to get business in our state because we have to offset the other negative factors in play. 

 

Are we spending our money on business incentives at the expense of education? That certainly seems to be the case. Maybe if we spent on education, the need for overly generous business incentives would go away.  

 

According to the Forbes data from these past three years, we scored in the bottom rankings in the same four out of six categories: labor supply, economic climate, growth prospects and quality of life. At least we are consistent.  

 

I recently attended a Mississippi Economic Council luncheon devoted on economic development for Mississippi. The most revealing statement of the day for me was that we shouldn't listen to and be influenced by what outsiders say about us.  

 

If not them, then who?  

 

If we follow that advice then we will always be what we have always been. If you want new business and new jobs to come into our state, you damn well better understand what it takes to make us desirable.  

 

Many of us think 48th is unacceptable, even if it is better than 50th. The question is how to keep moving up the ladder. Learning and education aren't exactly the same thing. Maybe we need to be doing both.  

 

Lynn Spruill, a former commercial airline pilot, elected official and city administrator owns and manages Spruill Property Management in Starkville. Her email address is [email protected]

 

 

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