By NEMS Daily Journal
The audience at the Mississippi Economic Council’s traveling road show in Tupelo on Friday had some distinguishing characteristics, according to MEC President Blake Wilson.
As electronic votes were registered, Wilson noted that those in attendance placed an unusually high emphasis on the importance of education and were exceptionally confident that their region shares a common vision for the future. No surprise there, he suggested.
He’s right. Northeast Mississippi is 1) highly aware of the necessity of a strong educational system from kindergarten (and before) through graduate school, is 2) growing in its awareness that our region must reduce the dropout rate and raise overall educational attainment, and 3) thinks and acts regionally more than any area of the state.
The occasion was the MEC-led effort to gather public input in multiple stops across the state for the new Blueprint Mississippi plan, which will update a 2004 statewide economic framework. Four key areas will be emphasized in the new plan: Educational achievement, resource management, economic competitiveness and technology commercialization.
The Tupelo event was held in conjunction with the Tupelo Kiwanis Club and included MEC leaders, past and present, and business leaders from the region. Opinions about economic prospects for the state and region reflected both practical recognition of challenges and optimism that they can be met.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Hank Bounds encouraged the audience to imagine Mississippi as they want it to be over the next decade, and what opportunities are likely to present themselves.
While Mississippi is a diverse state with regionally distinct economic advantages and disadvantages, much is shared in common. Better schools, a more highly educated and trained workforce and the willingness to break out of old patterns that no longer serve us well are appropriate and necessity priorities everywhere in Mississippi.
So, too, are efforts to shed once and for all the unflattering images of a racially troubled past and long entrenched poverty that still affect outside perceptions of Mississippi, regardless of progress.
Northeast Mississippi doesn’t have all the answers, but it’s been working a long time on the questions. It also systematically thinks about the economic future through a variety of institutional structures. Beginning Sunday, the Daily Journal will publish a week-long series of articles on the economic outlook for our region over the next decade.
Northeast Mississippi has a past that is instructive in how to adapt and grow economically. This region also has the capacity as it plans for its future to help the broader state get ready for, recognize and grab hold of economic opportunity.