TUPELO – Jobs, education and leadership were the top issues discussed at Friday’s State of the Region Meeting that saw movers and shaker from across the area brought together at the BancorpSouth Conference Center.
This was the 17th annual meeting for the organization – presented by CREATE Foundation’s Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi – that both gathers and monitors economic and social data gathered from 17 counties across Northeast Mississippi.
“What we want is everyone in the region to be on the same page as we address these issues,” said CREATE Chairman Tommy Tomlinson. “All us benefit when the region is successful.”
At the heart of Friday’s meeting was a report analyzing regional data related to jobs and economic development, education trends and scores, and social concerns that affect the regions quality of life.
Keynote speaker and Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn said education and economic development are always top concerns in the Legislature.
“Whenever a survey is taken, the number one issue of people in Mississippi is jobs,” said Gunn. “And when we ask industry what the number one thing it takes to bring them to our state, they say an educated workforce.”
Gunn said the days of a high school diploma opening doors to decent job have gone the way of the horse and plow.
“Fifty years ago 60-percent of the workforce was unskilled and basically farm hands and raw labor,” said Gunn. “In today’s job market 60 percent of the jobs are skilled and require training after high school, 20 percent require a college degree and 20 percent are still unskilled positions.”
He said good jobs go to plumbers, welders, electricians or those who has taken specialized training in healthcare, agriculture, robotics or specific factory skills.
Gunn said the state’s community college system will play an increasing roll in serving businesses and industry in North Mississippi.
Gunn also touched on charter school issues and the plight of failing school districts.
“The law says you have to go to school in the district where you live,” said Gunn. “That’s fine in Clinton and other high performing school districts, but it’s not right by other places in our state. Our society is all about choice – where you shop, where you live, where you go to church – but we don’t allow choice in education.”
Gunn said charter school are not the answer in every situation “but they are another tool in the toolbox.”
Gunn, who represents Hinds, Madison, Warren and Yazoo counties, was elected speaker in January 2012 and was the first Republican to hold the office in 136 years.
Dr. Tom Burnham, interim director of the Mississippi Principal Corps, and former Mississippi Superintendent of Education, said the state needs to put money and resources into developing education leaders.
“Leadership is the cutting edge in any organization,” said Burnham. “Yet in education we have not put the resources into developing the leaders this state needs to direct our schools and school districts.”
Burnham said principals are the key to good schools.
“Put a bad principal in a good school and it will fail,” said Burnham. “Put a good principal in a bad school and it will succeed. I say this because I have seen it happen time and time again.”
Burnham also stressed community involvement in local schools.
“Your community will get the kind of school district they want,” said Burnham. “I ask you and urge you to support the schools in your community.”
Friday’s meeting also saw Joe Max Higgins, CEO of the Golden Triangle Development Link, explain the success Columbus and Lowndes County have seen in economic development over the past 10 years.
Higgins said the days of pointing to a cousin’s bean field on the edge of town as an industrial park are over.
“Most people will tell you what a nice place they have, but in reality, not every piece of land is an ideal site,” he said. “You have to have a good site and a good plan and be ready to go. To get the big deal, you’ve got to have the water, the sewage, the utilities, the roads.”
And Higgins’ talk was backed up by the numbers. The Golden Triangle of Columbus, Starkville and West Point has seen the creation of more than 5,200 jobs and $4.5 billion in capital investment since 2003. He said solid infrastructure and a capable workforce were keys to landing projects like Severstal, Paccar, American Eurocopter and, most recently, Yokohama in West Point.
Written reports of the Northeast Mississippi Regional Profile and the Progress Report on Regional Goals were also distributed at Friday’s event.
The Commission on the Future of Northeast Mississippi is a major program component of the CREATE Foundation. It was organized in 1995 and is comprised of 54 leaders from Northeast Mississippi.
Friday’s event saw eight people from Chickasaw County register and attend.