Hire Mississippi policy set to launch

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MERIDIAN, Miss. (WTOK) - All too often Mississippi is at or near the bottom of national lists, but there's a new effort where the Magnolia State is leading the way. In fact, it's a groundbreaking effort, which is the first of its kind in the nation.
For this story Newscenter 11 talked with the chairman for the Mississippi Public Service Commission Brandon Presley.

If Mississippi's PSC has its way, we will soon see more companies in the state being awarded basic maintenance contracts for top utilities.

"Last year $870 million was spent by our top five or largest five public utilities in electricity and natural gas," says Presley. "Of that $870 million, only 30% of that stayed in the state of Mississippi. That's a shame and a disgrace."

To fix the problem, Presley says the commission has approved a new policy, which he spearheaded called Hire Mississippi. It requires gas, electricity, water and telephone service providers to consider Mississippi contractors when awarding contracts.

"We're looking to get that 30% number a lot higher, and we are making sure that Mississippi businesses are getting a fair shot," says Presley.

Starting Mar. 1, the new policy will require utility companies that are awarded projects above $200,000 in the state to mail or e-mail notices about the projects to contractors that register for free on the Hire Mississippi list.

"We want to tear down the glass wall around these types of contracts and give everybody a chance that is in Mississippi doing this work," says Presley.

Hire Mississippi is described as an effort that comes full circle, and requires all hands on deck. Here's why. If no Mississippi companies, or very few apply for certain types of contracts, members of Mississippi's Public Service Commission will relay that information to community colleges, universities and the state's employment service to let them know that there's a need to establish programs, or at least to recruit for programs that will fill that need.

"This is about keeping Mississippians dollars within the border of the state of Mississippi," says Presley, "and helping our people and helping our businesses before we go and help out-of-state companies."

Federal law does not allow the PSC to require utilities to hire Mississippi contractors. Presley says the purpose for the Hire Mississippi policy is to provide businesses the information they need to be considered for the contracts. His hope is that ultimately, this will help them get chosen for them.

"We're going to get this fixed," says Presley.

There's a penalty for utilities that do not abide by requirements for the Hire Mississippi policy. It's up to a $5,000 fine for each violation. This is the same penalty that applies for all other Mississippi Public Service Commission mandate violations.

The Hire Mississippi Initiative also requires utility companies to post ads about the initiative in most local papers every three months. Plus, it requires the companies to explain to the PSC why it chose to use an out-of-state contractor when this happens. Also, the companies will be required to provide some basic feedback to companies that are on the Hire Mississippi register about why they were not chosen.

The Hire Mississippi policy is set to take effect on Thursday, March 1st. That is the day that the initiative's website, hiremississippi.com will launch.