Group says state fails' in economic development

By DENNIS SEID

Daily Journal

A nonprofit Washington-based group says Mississippi lags behind much of the nation in areas such as equity and human resources, which is enough to give it failing grades in terms of economic development.

“Employment is the state's one bright spot but many area such as entrepreneurial energy, job quality, innovation and human resources are in need of a boost,” according to the 2004 “Development Report Card of the States,” published by the Corporation for Enterprise Development.

The CFED issued its 18th annual report card on Tuesday. The report compares the 50 states on 68 measures. Mississippi was tagged with “Fs” in the three main indexes assessed by the study – performance, business vitality and development capacity.

But Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, said the report is just one organization's opinion.

“It's a credible organization, but it's just their view,” Wilson said. “You always want to pay attention to how people rate you, but I think we've shown what we're capable of doing with our Blueprint Mississippi plan, which provides a bigger picture of what we're trying to accomplish.”

Wilson said research studies typically look at only a few factors and don't provide a true picture of what's going on.

“There are things that are good in the state, and there are things we need to work on,” he said. “I'm not fluffing off the group, but there's no reason to quibble with them. It's just one slice of the pie, however.”

Mixed results

CFED has given Mississippi an overall failing grade in the performance index for eight straight years. The group measures performance on how well the state's economy is providing opportunities for employment, income and improving quality of life.

Business vitality, defined by the group as how dynamic are a state's large and small businesses, earned an “F” after garnering a “D” last year. While Mississippi's industrial diversity was ranked sixth in the country, low-traded sector strength and increased business closings contributed to the failing grade.

In development capacity, which is a state's capacity for future development, Mississippi fared well in loans to small businesses (ranked third) and air quality (first). But its poor performance in basic math and reading proficiency and shortage of health professionals contributed to its 18th straight year of “Fs.”

But Wilson said the state has made great strides in the past year, particularly in education. He stresses that what's most important is what the trends indicate, not what the past shows.

“You have to celebrate the victories,” he said. “Yes, we still have some work to do, but we're making that effort.”

Indeed, other recently issued reports put the state in a much more favorable light. In October, the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council ranked Mississippi the nation's seventh-best climate for small businesses. Also, the Tax Foundation ranked Mississippi smack in the middle of its ranking of business-friendly tax codes. And in a study issued last month by the Pacific Research Institute in association with Forbes magazine, Mississippi ranked 28th in its Economic Freedom Index, which measures more than 100 variables including taxes and regulatory obstacles.

Contact Dennis Seid at 678-1578 or dennis.seid@djournal.com