BOBBY HARRISON: Government plays big role in state’s business success

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – In the 1980s, Mississippi’s business community helped lead an effort to increase the tax on motor fuels to fund a massive highway four-laning project.
To this day, the success of the project is still proclaimed by the business community. Without the four-lane project, Mississippi would not have had whatever economic development successes it has had since then, business leaders, such as Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson and others have said.
No doubt, if the major improvements had not been made to U.S. Highway 78, thanks in large part to the aforementioned 1987 Four-Lane Act, a major Toyota manufacturing plant would not be churning out Corollas right now at Blue Springs and all of the other auto suppliers would not have located in the area.
And to take it a step further, if not for a $334 million incentive package provided by the state in 2007, Toyota would not be producing cars in Northeast Mississippi.
A similar package lured Nissan to central Mississippi in 2002. Countless other examples of incentive packages to lure businesses to various areas could be cited. Right now, somewhere in the state, a business is asking for something from government.
There is a great debate under way on the national level about whether government plays a part in the success of American business.
Anyone who argues it does not has not been watching what has been going on in this country for literally centuries.
Every American – from the wealthiest CEO, to owner of a mom and pop business, to the day laborer to the stay-at-home spouse – has a vested interest in this country having an up-to-date infrastructure, a good education system and strong public safety apparatus.
An educated work force earns more and is thus able to buy more cars or other items. A better educated work force can afford to eat out more at local restaurants. And good roads help to get people to the restaurants.
It is no coincidence that the big push right now by members of the state’s business community is to curb the state’s abysmal dropout rate and to produce more college graduates. It is well documented that the states with a more educated populace have higher standards of living.
And it also is well documented that Mississippi invests less in education than those states do.
In 2006, former Netscape Chief Executive Officer Jim Barksdale offered to give the state $50 million to combat the dropout problem if the state would fully fund education.
If a person wants to judge the success of a businessperson by the size of his bank account, Barksdale would be in at least the state’s top five.
He has been called on by various governors to lead efforts for the state. Haley Barbour enlisted Barksdale to lead a Hurricane Katrina recovery effort even though Barksdale supported Barbour’s opponent – former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove. Current Gov. Phil Bryant recruited Barksdale to lead the state’s economic development efforts.
If anyone has succeeded in the private sector and owes a big thank-you to the private sector, it is Jim Barksdale.
Yet, here he was talking about the importance in investing in government – in education, which is a core function of any successful government.
Barksdale has through the years remained consistent in that belief because it helps all Mississippians – including the business community.
Without that government help, the business community in Mississippi – in America – will not succeed.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at bobby.harrison@journalinc.com or call (601) 353-3119.