CREATE commission sets economic, social goals

By DENNIS SEID

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Improving the education of the people of Northeast Mississippi will lead to another goal – increasing the region's per capita income.

The Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi recently approved a set of goals to improve the economy and social conditions in the 16-county area.

The overall goal is to improve the per capita income from 66.69 percent of the national average in 2000 (or $19,905) to 70 percent in 2010 and 75 percent by 2015.

The primary supporting goal is to improve the highest level of education attained by adults 25 years and older in the region. For example, in 2000, almost 31 percent of those adults had a high school diploma. The commission hopes to bump that figure up to 35 percent in 2010 and to 40 percent in 2010.

It also hopes to reduce the dropout rate of these adults by more than half, from 31.2 percent in 2000 to 15 percent by 2020.

“We think education is critical, and when you look at the social and economic problems we face, you have to have money to address them,” said Lewis Whitfield, senior vice president of the CREATE Foundation, where the commission has its roots. “That's why the overall goal is to improve the total income. But we realize that unless we improve our education, we'll have difficulty reaching that goal.”

Other supporting goals recommended by the commission:

n Complete the construction of regional four-lane highways (6, 15 and 25) by 2015.

n Assure that the region is the safest in the rural South by 2015.

n Assure that the region is clean and attractive.

n Develop a mixed, diversified economy that includes regional tourism, entrepreneurship, advanced manufacturing, health care, innovation and technology and services.

The dropout problem

At the recent State of the Region meeting, speakers bemoaned the 40 percent dropout rate of Mississippi students between the ninth and 12th grades. Northeast Mississippi posted similar results. Those startling results prompted area leaders to develop long-term solutions to ensure the region's viability.

Billy Crews, commission chairman and publisher of the Daily Journal, said “higher educational attainment levels mean higher income for adult workers. Our school dropout rates must be dramatically reduced and undereducated adult workers must have opportunities to improve their skills and knowledge.

“A meaningful high school diploma is the pathway to further education and earning power. The commission has helped define the problems inherent to low education attainment levels, which is the first step to resolving the problems and meeting the challenges of the new global economy. We can meet this challenge.”

Whitfield said it is beyond the scope of CREATE and the commission to achieve the goals by themselves. The leaders and citizens in each of the 16 counties must work together on these critical issues facing the region.

Crews agreed.

“Every one of us has a stake in improving education attainment levels,” he said. “Then, and only then, will we increase personal and family incomes and improve the quality of life in our region.”

Contact Business Editor Dennis Seid at 678-1578 or e-mail dennis.seid@djournal.com