CHARLIE MITCHELL: Let's ask Santa for a dose of optimism for today

By Charlie Mitchell

OXFORD – Mississippians believe in Mississippi, just not yet. It’s a strange thing. Of all the charts, tables, graphs and survey responses compiled by Blueprint Mississippi, this aspect stands out.
Mississippians have confidence that Mississippi has a great future, but are disheartened about today.
Blueprint Mississippi is a public-private partnership that uses only private dollars to take the state’s pulse. Supported by the Mississippi Economic Council, Momentum Mississippi and the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development, Blueprint Mississippi tries to move beyond the typical chamber of commerce rhetoric into the nuts and bolts of what can be done to make daily living better for those of us who get up and go to work every day and to increase opportunities for others to do the same.
People of Mississippi have heard more boosterism, more “happy days are just around the corner” speeches than Santa has heard requests for BB guns, Hot Wheels, bicycles and Barbies combined. It wears us out to listen to well-coiffed, middle-aged white men go to lecterns and deliver yet another “if only” speech. If there was as much pie in the sky as they say, some of it would have filtered down by now. We need to talk specifics.
No one talks much about this strange dynamic the Blueprint studies show, but it’s self-evident in the data.
Of the thousands of people surveyed, 79 percent said Mississippi had the potential to compete with other states in the South, Georgia and North Carolina specifically, in terms of development. On a different question, 69 percent said the state was very or moderately competitive and only 3 percent said the state was not competitive.
When asked what Mississippi would be like in 10 years, 74 percent predicted Mississippi would be seen as a “hot economic development locale of the New South” or a “newly emerging growth state.” Only 19 percent said the state would still be saddled by inescapable negatives or remain a low-cost, low-skill, low-wage state.
Those responses spell optimism for the future.
Yet when asked about Mississippi today – not 10 years from now – 57 percent said they perceive Mississippi today as a state that cannot escape negative perception as a low-cost, low-skill, low-wage state. Only 7 percent saw Mississippi as a “hot economic development location of the New South.” And get this, 49 percent – nearly half – said Mississippi children would need to leave the state after they grow up to find good-paying jobs.
Those responses show pessimism rules the present.
And that begs the question, what do these folks think is going to happen in the next 10 years that hasn’t happened to date? What’s going to provide opportunities in 2022 that isn’t providing opportunities in 2012?
Some Blueprint questions measured perceptions, not facts. By a lot of factual measures – rising per capita income, growth in some sectors – Mississippi is competitive today with other locales. So maybe it’s a “grass is always greener” kind of things. Maybe Mississippians have Little Orphan Annie in their psyches and just can’t believe “the sun will come out tomorrow” no matter what happens today.
For its part, of course, Blueprint Mississippi is not only about identifying where we are today but also, as the name indicates, determining what steps can be taken by those who write laws, develop policies and allocate resources. The big idea is to build a road to prosperity for all.
As one might expect, all the state’s big names in banking, manufacturing, energy, education, media, government and philanthropy are on Blueprint Mississippi’s board. The group’s forthcoming report, developed largely by consultants, is rife with the jargon of economic development. But it’s also very practical – or could be.
Overall, the impression is we don’t like ourselves or that we see obstacles where we should see opportunities.
And that leads to this: No one should have confidence in us – or will have confidence in us – until this state’s people have an overall aura of confidence in themselves. In the present, the here and now. Not in another 10 years or so.
Maybe we can ask Santa to bring use a dose of optimism, even pride.
The results would be amazing.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email cmitchell43@yahoo.com.