However, his main focus on Friday in Tupelo was to foster support for improving education.
“I hate to hear it when people say, 'this is the year of K-12,' or 'this is the year for community colleges' or 'this is the year for institutions of higher learning,'” he said. “How can we run our businesses if we wait for 'our' year?”
Wilson said education should be supported as a whole from top to bottom.
He said the support and commitment to education should mirror the effort behind the state's highway four-laning program 25 years ago.
“In 1987, we had an insurmountable problem with lack of accessibility to four-lane highways,” he said. “But business and community leaders statewide, not just political leaders, came together with a 20-year plan to bring a four-lane highway within 15 minutes of every Mississippi community. We asked ourselves 'how can we do this?' They did it, a little bit at a time, but they stayed with it and now look what we have.”
Wilson said the frustration with today's educational system also faces seemingly unsurmountable problems. But like the leaders then who tackled the highways a quarter-century ago, today's leaders can also take on a similar charge, he said.
“Every community has a different challenge and capability,” he said. “But we need to lay out a 10-year plan, a generational approach to improve public education – and I'm talking not just move education a little, but by leaps and bounds. So I'm asking business and community leaders to approach this education issue like they approached the highway issue 25 years ago.”
Wilson said any successful education system requires four main elements: an exceptional leader of the schools, quality teachers in the classroom, involved parents at home and sustained and predictable funding.
“The education reforms talked about today are great things,” he said. “Many that seem to be options today will be standard later. But it's the basic elements that get things going first, and they make it easier to add those options.”