OUR OPINION: Commission notes signs of economic progress

By NEMS Daily Journal

Northeast Mississippi’s State of the Region meeting always identifies economic and educational challenges, but Thursday’s 2012 session, the 16th for the 16-county alliance, also offered encouraging indicators showing progress and gains in several indices of achievement, educational attainment and prosperity.
CREATE Foundation Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield noted that he had “felt like the prophet of doom for seven years” because of job losses, educational liabilities and poor comparison to nationwide per capita income measures.
On Thursday, hundreds from the 16-county region and elsewhere heard encouragement from Whitfield on issues of key interest to the commission and CREATE:
• Northeast Mississippi’s per capita income increased by 43.9 percent ($19,99 to $28,234) from 2000 to 2010 compared to 33.8 percent nationwide ($29,865 to $39,937).
• In educational attainment, in 2000, 38 percent of the area’s adults (25 and older) had been in college, and 31.2 percent were high school dropouts. By 2010, 44.7 percent had college experience and 23.4 percent were dropouts.
The progress is incremental, but forward and upward movement is positive.
A downward slide accumulating over several years usually is not resolved in a single season of measuring, but there’s no doubt that the commission’s constant fact-gathering has kept the focus on trends and the forces driving and sustaining them. The commission’s honest and often disturbing reporting helped reshape the 16 counties about the necessity of brutal honesty on where we’ve stood and how we’ve presented ourselves as a region.
Thanks to the determination of many industries and the commission’s enduring support, 2010 was a no-loss in measuring manufacturing jobs. The honest, discouraging side is that while productivity is increasing the number of jobs overall is not growing in manufacturing.
Internet pioneer Jim Barksdale, an icon of success, said enhancing educational attainment will link to advanced manufacturing’s thriving industries.
He said if Mississippi raises high school graduation rates by 3 percent – to 74 percent – and increases university graduates 800 per year, the positive impact on Mississippi’s economy would be $11 billion every 10 years. The region’s dropout rate, it is worthy of note, is on target to decline to 15 percent by 2015.
Attaining the $11 billion impact and beyond, Barksdale suggested, relies on two words: Demand performance. That is at least an essential starting point.