By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – While $4 billion is a lot of money, it’s an investment paying dividends, said State Treasurer Lynn Fitch, one of the speakers at Tuesday’s annual Northeast Mississippi Economic Forecast Conference.
She said the state’s bonded indebtedness is only a third of the debt ceiling allowed by the state constitution, and that the bonds have helped create thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment.
“These bond projects are so important to our economy and job creation,” she said. “It’s important as we move forward in our state.”
The state pays about $1 million a day on principal and interest to pay off the debt, but Fitch said Mississippi still maintains a AA credit rating by the three major rating agencies. Only a handful of states have the higher AAA rating, she said.
As for the state’s economy overall, she said revenues appear to be on an upswing, but said Mississippi lags behind the rest of the country in recovering from the recession.
She said training and educating children is a priority to improving the state’s workforce.
Some of that workforce will be aimed toward advanced manufacturing and business and professional services, said Dr. David Irwin, the chairman of the Community Development Foundation. Those two sectors are targets outlined by a Texas consulting group helping CDF develop its next 10-year plan.
“We have already made some steps in the right direction with advanced manufacturing, through the start of production of Toyota and its suppliers,” he said.
Northeast Mississippi also is well-positioned for the business and professional services sector. Irwin noted the region is home to several financial institutions. BancorpSouth and Renasant are based in Tupelo, and Cadence Financial was founded in Starkville and maintains an office there.
Irwin also said the region has an opportunity to build on the health care sector. North Mississippi Health Services employs about 6,300 workers, and that figure doesn’t include the private practices that each employ another three to five workers.
The conference’s final speaker, Fred Barnes, hit on politics more than the economy, but said the national economy would probably tread water in the next year.
“There’s a big difference between Republicans and Democrats on what to do about the economy, “ he said. “President Obama thinks government can do a lot. Government creates jobs and that will generate economic growth. I think he has it upside down. I think you need to generate economic growth and then the jobs will come.”