Jobs, education and leadership were the issues of the day as the best and brightest from 17 counties gathered at the BancorpSouth Conference Center to solve the regions problems.
And then House Speaker Mike Gunn told this story.
“They recently asked an NFL defensive lineman what was the secret to playing in the NFL,” Gunn said as he leaned in for the punch line. “This guy looked at the reporter and said, “Well, you know this really isn’t rocket surgery . . .”
As the room laughed at the butchered cliché, it drove home his point
Yes, jobs, education and leadership will always be top issues in this region and even in Chickasaw County.
Chickasaw County has seen a net of four new businesses come here since 2011. While the number is nothing to write home about it, was not the negative three of Clay County, the negative 15 of Lafayette County or the negative 34 of Lee County.
The 17-county region lost 16 businesses as a whole. And as a 17-county region we need to focus on turning that number around.
In per capita income – the average income of a person in Chickasaw County – we fared much better.
In 2012 Chickasaw County has a per capita income of $32,310. We were fourth on the 17-county list, behind Lee, Lafayette and Union counties in that order.
We are blessed with a wealthy and prosperous group of people in this community who do much to help us all. They run and own our factories and many are farmers and landowners who have been around here for generations.
This economic elite needs to lead us in economic development game and help us secure the infrastructure that will benefit their businesses and bring jobs to Chickasaw County.
Some schools in Chickasaw County are good and some are not so good. Sadly we have no school district in this community that is above average. Even worse we have some school leaders who like to point only to the positive and chide us when we report the negative.
One of the statements made at Friday’s meeting was the need to take an honest and sober look at the numbers and then get to work changing them.
Chickasaw County has a graduation rate of only 56.2 percent based on 2011 numbers. Okolona has a 57.6 percent grad rate and Houston stands at 62.1.That’s a countywide graduation rate average of 58.63-percent.
Forty percent of our youth do not graduate from high school with the rest of their class in any given year!
With 60 percent of today’s jobs requiring at least a high school diploma and training after high school, this is an issue we need to address quickly.
Crime, reliance on government welfare, child abuse, drug abuse, gang violence and infant mortality are all connected to unemployment. And if you don’t even have a high school diploma how in the world are you going to land a job?
As we said earlier, there are influential people in Chickasaw County who give back much to their community.
There are also government and civic leaders who give their time to serve on city, county and school board and committees.
As I looked around the room Friday I realized it is only when a community wants to change that change comes. Things in this world either get better or they get worse and they only get better when people come together – pick capable and qualified leaders — and then get to work.
Many in Houston, Okolona, Houlka and Woodland are happy to get up every morning and watch the sun go down. They are not looking for anything new and won’t work to make something new happen.
That leaves the rest of us.
Jobs are coming to West Point. Schools are improving in Calhoun and Webster counties. And roads are being built in Pontotoc and Union counties.
I hope these numbers and these issues are cause for concern.
Let’s talk about our problems. Let’s plan some solutions. Let’s get to work and change our community.