By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal
CORINTH – Too often a community is operating in the dark when trying to compete for industrial and economic development projects, said Dr. Johnny Allen, president of Northeast Mississippi Community College.
Allen was keynote speaker at Thursday’s community forum of the Commission on the Future of Alcorn County.
Asked to focus on the link between education and a community’s ability to recruit business, Allen said educators often feel site selection specialists have a list of criteria they use to judge a community, and if they reject a location they never reveal what the community’s shortcomings were in their evaluation process.
“There’s a huge disconnect in how we evaluate our communities and industry’s checklist,” Allen said.
However, what is clear, he said, is that a community’s educational attainment is on the list.
Educational attainment is judged by the highest education level reached by the largest percentage of the population, and that’s an area where Mississippi as a whole, including Northeast Mississippi, is falling short.
According to available data, most often the state’s college graduates take their skills out of state, but the bright spot is that people who attend the community colleges – even those who continue to complete four-year degrees – often pursue their careers in-state and help boost the educational attainment level.
Conversely, Allen said, people with lower educational attainment don’t have the options that higher achievers do, so they also tend to remain in the community. It is in the community’s best interest, therefore, to work toward raising everyone’s educational level.
“Industry does not invest in a community that does not have a history of investing in itself,” Allen said.
Buttressing Allen’s remarks, Dr. Wayne Gann, chairman of the state board of education, said the demand on Mississippi’s students will be greatly increased with upcoming implementation of the common core curriculum.
That more demanding curriculum is necessary for U.S. workers to compete in a world economy.
A critical part of the education investment must be financial, Gann said, noting that once again the state Legislature has not fully funded the Mississippi Adequate Education Program.
“At some point in time we’re going to have to decide if we’re going to fund education adequately or not,” he said.