CATEGORY: EDT Editorials
Mississippi’s crying need for a reversal of its lackluster performance in attracting a new generation of manufacturing jobs becomes even more obvious as the gambling industry plays a larger and larger role in the state’s economy.
The loss of 16,500 manufacturing jobs from July of 1994 to July of 1995 third highest manufacturing jobs loss in the nation magnifies the necessity of upgrading the skills of Mississippi’s workforce. Many of the jobs lost during 1994-95 chipped away at the old foundation of the state’s industrial economy apparel and textiles. The trend is neither new nor unexpected. The apparel and textile industries fall into the lower end of the manufacturing skill spectrum, with parallel lower pay. As costs have risen industrialists found, not surprisingly, that it is financially prudent to move many plants out of the country. There, lower wage scales attract a trainable work force eager for jobs, and profitability can be maintained or increased. The loss is not total. Many of the apparel/textile corporate headquarters, warehousing and distribution operations remain in Mississippi or other states. Those remaining stateside jobs often pay higher wages than the manufacturing process.
Mississippi’s challenge becomes both the retraining of people whose skill and education levels are too low and in providing sharply focused incentives to attract high-paying, technology-based manufacturing.
Sen. Hob Bryan, whose chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee gives him a direct interest in how the state’s economic development dollars are spent, and Harry Martin, president of the Tupelo-based Community Development Foundation, generally share several concerns:
– Provide a strong education base, and then “customize” the state’s education mission to meet the needs of specific manufacturers. Martin believes Mississippi is far behind many other states in providing no-strings-attached state money to be used in training for top-level manufacturers. Martin believes the state could usefully spend at least $25 million per year (it will spend about $6 million this year) to upgrade its manufacturing knowledge base in a sharply focused way. Bryan said it is immeasurably better to “compete based on smarts” rather than trying to compete based on the lowest wage scale.
– Use the state’s marketing and incentives, but let the final, decisive persuasion based on hard information come from local/regional leadership committed to meeting industries’ needs. Bryan and Martin both said it is counter-productive to lay out what’s available and then inflexibly demand that manufacturers conform to a preconceived package.
– Capitalize on rural locations with easy access to four-lane and interstate highways for both top-end manufacturing and the distribution network for their products.
Gambling inarguably brings money into Mississippi’s economy. However, its liabilities include losses of existing industry and business, personal and family dysfunction caused by gambling addiction, and historical unreliability as a long-term economic base.
Some Mississippi leaders believe that gambling is the state’s economic salvation. That’s a long-shot relying more on luck than brains. Smart money will build a new foundation on “smarts”-based manufacturing and the service industries supporting it.