Mississippi Economic Council President Blake Wilson offered the most sobering statistical insight at Thursday’s annual meeting in Tupelo of the Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi: Recent polling of Mississippi voters shows that 62 percent believe today’s young people must leave the state to seek good employment.
That disturbing opinion is backed by surveys of MEC’s own constituency this year: 49 percent said Mississippi’s children will have to leave the state to find good-paying jobs when they enter the workplace. That’s the voice of people who would be classified as “business leaders” – those who know our economic strengths and weaknesses statewide.
Wilson, MEC’s membership, and its board of directors generally are people who have achieved some measure of success, and some hold national and international reputations for their successes.
Despite major advances in recent years with big, top-tier industries like Nissan, the aerospace corridor along U.S. Highway 82, and the strong anticipation with Toyota’s planned production this year, the substance of what Mississippi is doing for itself hasn’t engendered strong confidence in holding our own best and brightest young people.
Earlier, at the same commission meeting, David Dobson of the North Carolina-based think-tank MDC, said even if Mississippi excellently educates all its children K through university, but has no jobs to suit their skills and preparation, those intellectual assets will go elsewhere.
It is an old story in Mississippi, and changing its ending will mark the point when our state can say it is fully competitive, and prove it.
The MDC mantra is simple and powerful: Education+ Work+Assets = The Pathway to Opportunity.
The asset we lack for those who are intellectually prepared is the jobs they want.
On the beginning end of intellectual development the asset we lack and must have is early childhood learning: nurturing the brains of children from birth to three years in an intentional and proven way to prepare them for full potential success.
Not until Mississippi makes significant progress in creating broad prosperity built on intellectual assets will our state deal successfully with all the social and personal pathologies rooted in poverty, including health issues and family instability.
It is no coincidence that MEC members in six of the eight regions into which it divides the state cited “education” as their region’s “biggest need.” The other two regions cited “trained workforce”" – an extension of “education.”
The MEC survey also reflected a continuing reality in our state: “Racial reconciliation was a subject that appeared almost equally among strengths and weaknesses. Participants were energized by the momentum of recent efforts to improve race relations, though most who listed racial reconciliation as a positive milestone also listed it among areas that need improvement.”
Dobson had said earlier that no state that does not fully commit to adequately educating every face in a changing nationwide demographic that will include more Latino, black and Asian children cannot succeed. Mississippi is destined by trends beyond our borders to become a more diverse state, no longer one divided almost exclusively demographically by “black” and “white,” as has always been the case.
Too many Mississippians of all races and ethnicities don’t want to deal with that fact, which will become a liability if it is not shaped into an asset. Everyone in leadership must participate.
It is significant that Thursday’s Tupelo audience included business leaders from the Mississippi Delta seeking information about a regional model that could work in reviving the Delta, our state’s poorest and most distressed sector.
The facts discussed Thursday have little to do with who runs Washington and almost everything to do with what Mississippians do for themselves. It is an old lesson we have not fully learned.
NEMS Daily Journal