By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – While the Mississippi Economic Council will release its full Blueprint Mississippi report in January, MEC President Blake Wilson is in the middle of a statewide tour to drum up interest and support.
He was in Tupelo on Friday, speaking to the Kiwanis Club and other business leaders from the region. His message: Mississippi has many challenges, but it is making good progress and must be persistent over the long term to see results.
Wilson hit on familiar themes the statewide business organization espouses, including the need for early childhood education. An educated workforce, Wilson said, is essential to keeping Mississippi competitive.
Mississippi is among 12 “blueprint states” that include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas – states that are Mississippi’s primary economic development competition.
“Education is a long-term issue,” he said. “We really haven’t gotten serious about the education funding until really around 2000. We really haven’t been through a complete generation in reaping the benefits. And we’ve been through a recession where we haven’t been able to keep up the pressure.
“So we’re talking about a two- to three-generation time result, but our trend lines are moving in the right direction. Of course, we have to realize our competitor states are also doing the same thing. It’s not like they’re staying still. They’re working on it too.”
Wilson said improving the state’s education system is much like improving the state’s highway system.
He said in 1987, right before a massive multi-year highway improvement program was started, Mississippi ranked last in accessibility to highways.
“Now we’re ranked No. 1 in the mid-South, No. 5 among the blueprint states and No. 16 nationally in our highway system capability. That’s a great testament to keeping a long-term vision.”
Wilson said Mississippi compares rather well among its blueprint peers.
“We are in the middle tier or some cases, top tier of competitiveness among the blueprint states,” he said. “Occasionally we’re in the bottom tier in a couple of categories. In education, we still have some lagging challenges. But we’re showing improvements in fourth-grade reading scores. If you look at the history of those releases, we’ve had quantum leaps in improvements.”