By Sarah Robinson/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Manufacturers gathered in Starkville on Wednesday to discuss issues faced by the state’s manufacturers.
“I love economic development,” Gov. Phil Bryant told the group, adding that he wakes up every day thinking of how to bring more industry and more jobs to Mississippi.
The summit focused primarily on furniture manufacturing, which employs more than 18,000 people statewide. Bryant reminded the crowd that is the equivalent of nine Toyota plants operating in the state.
Bryant said he met recently with Bill Simon, the chief executive officer of Wal-Mart Stores. While he would not discuss any specific projects at this time, the governnor did say that there is “no reason why we couldn’t make the furniture they sell right here in Mississippi.”
Bryant said workforce development is critical to the state’s ability to attract industry.
“If you can’t find an educated workforce … you’re not going to be able to stay open very long,” he warned.
Other speakers echoed the governor’s call for better workforce development.
“Education, education, education,” Hassell Franklin, CEO of the Franklin Corp., said was necessary to keep manufacturing strong in the state.
Bryant and Franklin said they believe reshoring – jobs being brought back to the U.S. from overseas – will be important to the state’s future economic development.
The Obama administration was represented by officials from the departments of commerce and agriculture, the Delta Regional Authority and the Appalachian Regional Commission. Matt Erskine, acting assistant secretary for economic development at the U.S. Department of Commerce, said the president is committed to helping rural areas struggling to grow economically.
“Communities must look for new ways to drive economic development and create growth” as private capital remains highly risk averse, he said.
However, Skipper Holliman, president of HomeStretch Furniture, said regulations still inhibit the ability of the private sector to grow.
“We’ll commit to jobs, we’ll pay the money,” he said, adding that he needs help getting over hurdles created by government.
The day-long summit was held at the Franklin Furniture Institute at Mississippi State University.