Building a better Mississippi

BY DENNIS SEID

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Blake Wilson says Mississippians need to develop a Texas-sized attitude about the Magnolia State.

Despite living and working in one of the poorest states, Mississippians have to get away from the negatives and accentuate the positives, he told an early morning crowd gathered for First Friday at The Mall at Barnes Crossing.

“Texans will say they're temporarily poor, not broke,” said Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council. “It all depends on how you look at things. What I do know is that every state has challenges.”

He highlighted the efforts of Blueprint Mississippi, a statewide business plan that calls for a “prosperous, vibrant and resilient Mississippi, built upon a foundation of economic opportunity for all of its citizens.”

Mississippi does have its fair share of issues, Wilson said, but he urged the audience to consider that the state has the cleanest air in the country, the fastest per capita income growth in the South during the past 10 years and one of the lowest labor and real estate costs in the country.

“We all need to be champions of Mississippi,” said Wilson, whose organization is often referred to as the state's chamber of commerce.

Exponential progress

He said the 1987 Mississippi Highway Program is an example of what could be accomplished if people are committed to long-term growth. The quality of highways in the state lagged at the bottom of the nation, but improving the roads bit by bit over the years, the roads were ranked the country's 10th best 13 years later.

Wilson called it incremental progress that led to exponential progress. However, he also said sustaining such programs is critical for continued success.

“Imagine if we take nine or 10 kids and nine or 10 schools at a time and improve a little bit more each year,” he said. “But you have to keep going at it.”

To implement the goals set by Blueprint Mississippi, the governor has embraced Momentum Mississippi, which Wilson said is the tactical effort to achieve the strategic plan.

“We're going to build a better Mississippi,” he said. “Five or ten years from now, nobody will be getting the blueprint out to compare, but it will be a launching pad. We're going to use it as a tool to measure our success.”

The MEC has held caucuses throughout the state to gather community leaders to talk about the blueprint. Stops in Northeast Mississippi were scheduled last month but had to be postponed after Wilson had to undergo emergency eye surgery. He promised to announce dates in the area within the next couple of months.

“The caucuses are in-depth meetings and we go step-by-step over what we want to do,” he said. “The people who attend vote on the ideas, and we're doing this all over the state.”

Contact Dennis Seid at 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com