January 6, 2012 12:03:00 PM
By JEFF AMY
JACKSON -- The Mississippi Economic Council wants legislators to expand charter schools, recruit more businesses, improve teacher quality and increase the amount of funding available to entrepreneurs.
The MEC is the state chamber of commerce. On Thursday the group released its Blueprint, a set of policy recommendations for lawmakers and other state officials.
Incoming Gov. Phil Bryant and new Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, both Republicans, pledged support for the plan. Blake Wilson, the head of the business group, said it needs a multi-year commitment.
Mississippi is at the bottom of many national rankings for education, health and other quality-of-life issues. Wilson told about 500 people at MEC's Capital Day that they should embrace the state's achievements.
"We do not own the franchise on failure, ladies and gentlemen," Wilson said. "For Pete's sake, let's stop selling it."
Reeves said he expects a number of bills will be drafted in the Legislature using the document.
MEC pledged to continuously update the plan, hoping others will enact the ideas. While the business group might lobby for measures, Wilson said the document was a research tool for Bryant.
"It's going to be the governor who drives the agenda for economic development in Mississippi," Wilson said.
In a statewide tour rolling out the plan, a survey of those who attended showed that a quarter ranked improving education as the most important, followed by about 16 percent whose first priority was improving the state's pool of workers and another 16 percent who believed the state should strengthen its economy.
Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds, who led the planning effort, said that those top three goals are tightly connected.
"If you want to improve the economy in this state, then the first thing you also have to do is improve education."
Other goals include promoting health care and diversity, improving the state's infrastructure, bettering coordination among public and private leaders, supporting the state's creative economy and making more money available for business expansion.
The $1.25 million effort was funded by the economic council, the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development and Momentum Mississippi.
A previous Blueprint Mississippi was released in 2004. "What happened last time is we finished the study and it was done," Wilson said.
Wilson said he believed the second Blueprint would have more impact.
"Now we have thousands of leaders all over this state who have heard the message and are buying in," he said.
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