Northeast Mississippians probably look with a mixture of relief and optimism on the closing days of 2009 – a year of the severest economic pain in decades and a time of reassessment for individuals, businesses, institutions and governments.
The new millennium hardly had started when the United States and the world were stunned and angered by the terrorists’ attacks on New York, later in London, and in Malaysia. The deaths of thousands were cause for wars seeking justice – and defeat of terrorism – in Iraq and Afghanistan, with both continuing.
What the wars did not require in terms of material sacrifice as Americans experienced during World War II was brought home by the recession that started in late 2007 and began to ease only in late summer 2009.
Mississippians – still reeling because the worst of it hit here later than in other states – probably see more clearly how vulnerable the economic base becomes when the big national and global factors are piled on.
Northeast Mississippians have seen more losses of furniture industry jobs, loss of other manufacturing positions, and a falloff in employment because people without jobs don’t spend enough money to sustain pre-recession employment levels.
At the core of the self-examination required in every recession is an honest new look at what we’re doing to build an economy that can withstand such pressure.
The bottom line remains preparing a work force through higher educational attainment to create a magnet for better jobs investment.
Regional cooperation and action, despite the temporary Toyota setback, is one of the answers.
Another sustained improvement is seen in the booming enrollment of community colleges and, to a lesser extent, the state’s public universities.
The message has apparently hit home that education is the foundation for a better, more prosperous life. Itawamba Community College, for example, is among the fastest-growing two-year institutions nationwide. Its enrollment grew 17 percent this fall over 2008, and similar growth is seen in some of the other state community college campuses.
To some extent the question becomes, “Are regional economic development efforts keeping pace with citizens’ self-preparation for better jobs?”
The economy, more than exhortation, is teaching the lesson that education matters a lot.
It’s reasonable to expect that some of the lost jobs will revive when the economy improves. Increasing orders and higher consumer spending will drive rehiring and new hiring, but some of the jobs lost in what’s called the Great Recession won’t come back.
Replacing lost low-wage jobs needs to be with higher-wage, stronger-job investment. Every job is important but not every job is of equal economic value. Improving jobs quality has been a driving force in Northeast Mississippi’s strategy for more than 60 years.
Better jobs aren’t necessarily jobs with different companies. Some companies that can transition to a higher level should be provided every incentive by state policy and local participation.
Innovation and better knowledge remain foundational in both recovery and sustained prosperity. The Great Recession can be overcome if our region is ready for the opportunities.
NEMS Daily Journal