Blueprint Mississippi cites progress, recommends action

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – After surveying thousands of business and community leaders from across the state, the Mississippi Economic Council’s Blueprint Mississippi 2011 report shows the state has made great strides.
“Much progress has been made in the past decade,” said MEC Chairman and state Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds, “but we still have miles to go.”
Highlights of the report were presented Thursday in Jackson, Tupelo and Biloxi.
Blueprint Mississippi was first released in 2004, and most of the report comes from a $1.25 million privately funded research project by the MEC, the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development and Momentum Mississippi.
Work on the project started in January at the state’s four research universities, as well as the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation and Tougaloo College.
MEC President Blake Wilson said the full report will be released Jan. 5 at the group’s Capital Day.
“We have a set of nine goals and recommendations,” Wilson said. “We’ll be putting together an action plan, assigning responsibilities and getting the word out between now and when we present the information.”
Among the report’s recommendations is developing tools and strategies to support the tourism industry, removing tax and regulatory barriers, expanding the health care sector, developing incentives to attract and retain highly educated workers, decreasing the teenage pregnancy rate and creating a high-quality early-education system.
Wilson said there were no big surprises in the report, but did say advanced manufacturing and the automotive industry have made great strides as part of the state’s economy.
“Take automotive,” he said. “Other than a few suppliers, it was practically nonexistent 12 years ago. And this report hasn’t even included what’s going on with Toyota.”
Tourism – not just gaming – also has grown in significance.
“Structurally, we’ve got some good things going on in the state,” Wilson said.
Mississippi is among 12 “blueprint states” that include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Wilson said while the state’s shipping industry was ranked third among the blueprint states, it’s impact based on an economic index was No. 1 in Mississippi.
Likewise, the state’s furniture industry, also ranked third among its peers, had a top impact in Mississippi.
Timber, poultry and agriculture also ranked low when compared to the other blueprint states, but rated highly as far as their overall impact within the state.
“We don’t own the franchise of No. 50,” Wilson said.
dennis.seid@journalinc.com