Hill retires from economist post

By Ted Carter/Mississippi Business Journal

JACKSON — The logic of purposely dumping American grown wheat into the Gulf of Mexico while large parts of the world’s population starved didn’t compute for high school math whiz Marianne Hill.

Her teacher’s short-form answer — the wheat dumping protected farmers in the Third World countries whose people were starving — equally befuddled Hill, who decided then to put her knack for numbers to work making sense of this science called “economics.”

It’s been a more-than-four-decade quest, with over half of that time spent in Mississippi as a state senior economist with the Center for Policy Research and Planning at the state Board of Institutions of Higher Learning.

Before Mississippi came stints in Bangladesh as a visiting scholar and in Puerto Rico advising the island’s leaders on effective government participation in economic development. She followed that with five years in academia as a public finance professor at the University of Akron in Ohio.

The University of Maryland math graduate and holder of a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a doctorate in economics from Yale University retires this week. Her pursuit of economic understanding won’t end there, however. She’s got a book planned and other writing projects under consideration.

Among Hill’s specialties is economic forecasting, a skill she has used for years in producing the state’s Quarterly Economic Outlook and other periodicals. She also has often been called on to brief government and business leaders on the current and future condition of Mississippi’s economy as well as the nation’s.

Hill gets ready for such tasks by delving into the intricacies of Mississippi’s economic sectors and indices, and developing models detailing how they interact. The aim is to give insight into the state’s economy of today and tomorrow, Hill said.

Academically and professionally, Hill’s focus was on the role of government in economic development. On occasions in which she was asked what Mississippi can do to create a healthier business class, she had a short answer: “Entrepreneurial development.”

She said for proof Mississippi can grow its own, look at any list of the state’s major manufacturers. “They were founded in the state and have thrived here.”

Hill said she does not want to downplay the value of such huge economic development successes as Ingalls, Nissan, Toyota, General Electric and, more recently, Yokohama Tire. But an increased emphasis on developing what is already here would pay big dividends as well, she said.

“Often we adopt what is happening elsewhere as opposed to innovating and being leaders.”

In the most recent tabulation, Mississippi had the fewest number of patents per capita among the states, according to Hill.

“It has been that way for some time. We get a lot of federal R&D money but not private.”

The absence of venture capital forces a lot of promising startups to leave the state. As this continues, Hill said, “You are just condemning your economy to only picking up what has started elsewhere.”

Closer assessments of young, innovative Mississippi companies and developing incentives to aid their growth would be a good start, Hill said.

“It is definitely the case that Mississippi needs to have an overall approach to economic development. But we also need to be investing and developing our own entrepreneurs.”

Though Hill’s prescription for economic health would get a fast thumbs down from the state’s political leaders, she is hardly shy about where she thinks the state can gain the investment revenues it sorely needs: Large corporate entities in the state, especially ones that have operations around the country and internationally.

Her remedy would not involve new taxes, Hill said, just collecting more of the taxes that are owed. “We haven’t been as diligent as we need to be in monitoring” where multi-state corporation in the state say they are generating their income, she said.

The state must be more demanding in knowing specifically where certain types of corporate income is derived and should develop reporting forms that can attain thorough accountings, Hill said.

Part of the problem is the absence of uniformity among the states in accounting for corporate income and its point of origination. “If every state has a different means of measuring income from corporate activities, then you end up with the potential for more corporate tax loopholes.

“If they claim the money was made outside the state then they don’t owe anything. Who is monitoring what they pay.”

An immediate fix, Hill said, would be to hire more state tax auditors.

Hill said if nothing else, leaders in Mississippi and other states should begin welcoming a wide debate on how to move their economies forward.

“Economic development involves conflict among different groups competing for favored treatment.

“Policies that move a region forward depend on all major players getting involved in policy debates: people just do not agree on which policies offer the greatest potential for higher incomes and a higher quality of life. Only debate clarifies which policies can lead us forward. Debate changes opinion and brings the cooperation needed for success,” she said.

___

Information from: Mississippi Business Journal, http://www.msbusiness.com