The Daily Journal's week-long series on Northeast Mississippi's economy examined seven key elements shaping and reshaping the lives of employees, investors, corporations and entrepreneurs - the baseline of how money and profit are made and earned.
Those elements - workforce, manufacturing, health care, higher education, retail and tourism, banking and finance, and overall quality of life produce the Northeast Mississippi product.
It is apparent that the changing global economy has dealt our region some harsh blows, especially in manufacturing that's vulnerable generally to lower labor costs offshore. Most of those jobs, especially in the furniture industry, won't come back even though some of the companies remain headquartered in our region.
The balance must come from new investment. Toyota and its soon-to-be-operating assembly plant in Union County, is always the first achievement that comes to mind.
Everybody knows that every new investment can't be a Toyota.
As CDF President and CEO David Rumbarger told the Daily Journal, "Pulling a Toyota is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. For a rural community to be able to compete with the metro areas and succeed, it's highly unusual."
Much depends on how our region uses its educational assets to prepare a workforce that remains too often undereducated.
Community colleges sought and have been given the larger responsibility of workforce training. It is a task and opportunity so big that Itawamba Community College created a second Tupelo campus to meet the facilities need.
There is consensus that if Northeast Mississippi reaches goals set for 2020 the two research universities in the region (Ole Miss and Mississippi State), plus other colleges, must collaborate and cooperate in unprecedented ways to help build the economy of the area surrounding them.
University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones and MSU President Mark Keenum agree and have started that process with a joint task force, and high expectations have been created.
The goal everyone agrees on is raising educational attainment - the number of residents with diplomas and degrees. We're behind the nation and even the state, and we must catch up. That education deficit stifles the ability to recruit investment and holds back local economies.
The retail sector faces challenges from Internet sales, and some organizations like the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association and big centers like the Mall at Barnes Crossing are focused on retaining and increasing in-store traffic. There's no way to stand pat and expect to survive.
The region's health care is anchored by two large health systems, North Mississippi Medical Center and Baptist Memorial, and both own multiple hospitals, clinics and other treatment facilities.
Education is required to staff those systems, and both the universities and community colleges are focused on providing training and degrees to ensure its viability.
The cost of underwriting investment falls in part to the region's banks, most of which are rebounding from recession challenges, some expanding assets with acquisitions, and collectively providing thousands of regional jobs.
All the elements working together produce a better quality of life, but much of that responsibility falls to individual communities and counties, which must be responsive to changing conditions to keep quality of life an asset rather than a liability.
The recession has been painful, but it has been a stimulus to re-examine what it takes to become more prosperous and more successful as a region.
Follow-through on what's been undertaken can mean a better future for Northeast Mississippi.