Exploring the keys to economic development locally

MISSISSIPPI (WTOK) - How would you describe your local economy? That's the question some local business leaders were asked Tuesday as part of the Mississippi Economic Council's statewide tour. Meridian is the 9th stop on the 18 city tour.

"Improving." That's how the interim president for the MEC describes the state's economy. He says the new tire plant in Hinds County, and booming business at Ingalls Shipyard on the coast are just two examples of growth, but more is needed.

"If you look at what site selectors tell us, the number one issue is workforce, and number two is strong transportation infrastructure," says Scott Waller.

That's why he says transportation upkeep, and across the board continued education improvements are needed.

"We've got to focus on making sure that we have a skilled and educated workforce that's able to not only deal with filling the jobs that are available today, but making sure that we're prepared for the jobs that are coming down the line tomorrow," says Waller.

In an effort to help attract more jobs and support existing ones, the East Mississippi Business Development Corporation has created a regional Alliance of Growth. It's a group of almost 100 business leaders from: Neshoba, Newton, Kemper, Lauderdale and Clarke counties. EMBDC president Bill Hannah says when it comes to attracting industries, this type partnership can help all involved.

"No matter where they go, they won't only hire people from that local area, they'll draw from the region," says Hannah. "So, we're just trying to match up what they're looking for to what we're selling."

Kemper County Economic Development Authority Director, Craig Hitt, was one of five members from that alliance, who recently went to Washington to meet with Mississippi's congressional delegation. He's optimistic about the alliance's efforts.

"For the first time we're all working together. We're talking together and we're sharing information," says Hitt.

In coming months the head of the EMBDC says the alliance plans to expand even more to across the state line when Sumter County officials also join. The current head of the Mississippi Economic Council says this is a step in the right direction.

"Sometimes on some levels you have to understand that while you may be crossing county lines or state lines, if we're not working together, we're not going to be successful," says Waller.

According to the Mississippi Economic Council there are about 40,000 job openings currently in Mississippi. The agency's findings also reveal that more than 60% of jobs in the state require some type of post secondary education or training. A Georgetown University study has found that by the year 2020, 65% of all jobs in the U.S. will require some type of secondary education or training.