OUR OPINION: Symposium highlights progress in region

By NEMS Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippi’s economic prospects, while still reflective to a degree of the national slowdown, made sizable gains in the past year – the kind of gains showing evidence and intention of further expanding the workforce and capital investment.
Community Development Chairman Dr. David Irwin outlined the prospects Tuesday at the annual economic forecast conference, sponsored by Tupelo’s banks and Journal Inc.
Irwin’s brief remarks highlighted the positive, which, of course, includes the opening for production of the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi plant in Blue Springs.
Thousands of jobs have been added for production there and at nearby supplier plants, which is a strong positive for prosperity, but the unemployment figures for January, reflecting December, remained in double digits – 10.7 percent – as in 34 of the past 35 months in that category.
The figure is lower than the 11.3 percent average for 2011, 11.7 in 2010 and 11.2 in 2009.
Irwin, a physician for more than 30 years, logically and correctly cited the enormous employment income and impact of health care in Northeast Mississippi.
Irwin noted the $55 million West Tower Project at North Mississippi Medical Center as well as the 6,300 people employed by North Mississippi Health Services, plus about 300 construction workers and hundreds more employed in private medical practices.
Toyota, he noted has 1,950 “team members” at Blue Springs.
Suppliers in Union, Pontotoc, Itawamba, Lee and Panola counties also have started producing components.
Longtime industries also expanded: Tecumseh, Cooper Tire, Philips Day-Brite and MTD all are thriving.
Irwin noted that a new CDF focus includes more fully developing health care jobs, which surely can parallel and perhaps enhance the plans announced Tuesday in Gov. Bryant’s State of the State address.
The two primary target sectors outlined by the TIPS consultants, Irwin noted, are advanced manufacturing and business and professional services.
“You know that CDF has worked in conjunction with local and regional partners for the past 63 years in order to provide a higher level of economic success for the region. With the start of 2012, CDF has just finished its newest tool in economic development (with the support and endorsement of the Lee County Board of Supervisors), a new building in Fairpark – called ‘The CDF Center.’ … Its second floor will provide roughly 6,500 square feet of available space for any new company to locate. All of these new tools will help … attract and retain new businesses in the future,” Irwin said.
As in the other 63 years before the Toyota era, we determine our future.