By Bill Crawford
Amid well-wishers wearing “Thanks Haley” stickers, Haley Barbour made his last appearance as governor at the Neshoba County Fair last week. He used it to reflect on accomplishments.
“The response of Mississippians to Katrina’s devastation did more to improve Mississippi’s image, including with job creators, than anything that has happened in my lifetime,” he said. Barbour sees this as the greatest triumph of his governorship.
Later he told a group of East Mississippi journalists, “Twenty-five years from now, people may see expansion of the state port at Gulfport as the greatest.” Under Barbour’s guidance plus $500 million in Katrina funds, the port is undergoing massive expansion. “We can have the number one container port on the Gulf of Mexico,” Barbour said.
Others see Barbour’s main contribution as improving Mississippi’s business climate. “Government doesn’t create jobs,” according to Barbour; “but it establishes a business climate, a tax system, workforce development support, logistical and other infrastructure, and a lot of other things that lead to jobs being created by the private sector.”
Still, it may be another Barbour initiative that tops all others, making Mississippi “a reliable energy state.”
Just last month the Fraser Institute’s 2011 Global Petroleum Survey ranked Mississippi the top location for oil and gas investments. Mississippi beat out Texas, Oklahoma, Canadian and Australian provinces, and 100 plus other jurisdictions around the world for the top spot.
This follows Barbour’s successful efforts to land innovative energy projects, such as Mississippi Power Company’s $2.5 billion “integrated gasification combined cycle” power plant in Kemper County; Kior’s $500 million commitment to build five bio-fuel production facilities across the state; and the $1.1 billon Gulf LNG Clean Energy Project at the Port of Pascagoula. Then, there are massive expansions of existing facilities such as the $1.4 billion Chevron refinery expansion at Pascagoula and Entergy’s $510 million expansion at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.
The Fraser Institute survey ranked locations using 17 factors. These include taxation levels, lack of uncertainty regarding environmental regulations, labor availability and regulations, quality of infrastructure, political stability, security, and fair legal practices.
Mississippi had the best composite score by a factor of two to one.
“We work hard to be seen as a state that is pro-job creation, politically stable, with low taxes and a predictable regulatory structure,” said Barbour. “That kind of environment attracts all businesses, including energy companies. I’m pleased the Fraser Institute recognizes the progress we’re making.”
Mississippi, with its thousands of acres of timberland for bio-fuel supply, untapped bands of lignite coal, and a pro-energy business climate should be pleased too. As a result of Barbour’s leadership, the state is poised to be a “reliable” player in the 21st Century energy economy.
Bill Crawford (email@example.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian. Write to him at 1124 Windmill Drive, Meridian, MS 39305.