State has a better story to tell

By BRYAN DAVIS EDITOR,

Mississippi has a great story to tell, but that great story is not necessarily the one being told.

That is according to Mississippi Economic Council President & CEO Scott Waller, who keynoted a special presentation to the Indianola Rotary Club this week as part of MEC’s tour of cities across the state in 2020.

MEC’s theme for this year’s tour is focused on building a better Mississippi.

In order to do that, Waller said, the state must celebrate its recent achievements in education and economic development, while raising the bar and getting those positive stories out to the rest of the country.

At the start of the presentation, Waller polled those in attendance, using electronic devices at the tables, on issues like the Mississippi State Flag, education, brain drain and workforce training.

It’s interesting to note that 56% of those in attendance believed the state flag contributed to a negative image of the state.

While most in attendance believed it had less of an impact on attracting and retaining young talent, and a marginal amount believed it had an effect on business recruitment, it is interesting to note that audience of business and community leaders believed this to be the case.

The flag issue comes up just about every legislative session, but any attempt to change it in the Legislature usually dies in committee.

State leaders have repeatedly stated their position.

They stand by the nearly 20-year-old referendum that preserved the flag as it is today, with the Confederate emblem in the top left corner.

It’s not exactly certain if the flag has directly caused negative outcomes when it comes to recruiting outside business.

Even progressive tech companies of the west coast like Amazon are entering Mississippi with plans for fulfillment centers, and neither the flag nor a multitude of conservative stances on things like abortion and gay rights seem to be a tremendous hinderance

But if our own business leaders view it, at the very least as a distraction in recruiting, it would seem logical to explore other flag designs.

So far, that has not been the case.

Externally, Waller said the state has gotten a bad rap for not only the flag but also K-12 education, race relations, gender bias, access to healthcare and other things.

Waller pointed out, however, that Mississippi had the strongest growth in the nation when it came to fourth and eighth grade math and reading skills this past year and the graduation rate is now outpacing the national average at 85%.

Waller said this is the story that Mississippi should be telling.

And he is right.

Mississippi has a lot of work to do, but it has made a tremendous amount of progress when it comes to race relations, education and workforce training.

One of the biggest obstacles to growth, however, is an issue we’ve written about extensively over the past several years.

That is brain drain.

We continue to lose population throughout the state, but according to the map presented by Waller this week, the percentage of people leaving the Delta region is higher than most.

We’ve stated this before, and we’ll continue to do so until everyone gets on the same page about it. Sunflower County and the Delta must figure out a way to stop the bleeding when it comes to population decline.

The best and brightest are leaving for other areas of the state and country for better opportunities.

The Sunflower County Consolidated School District is a mirror of the success we have seen statewide in our K-12 schools. The district, for the first time in its history, was named a Successful school last year.

That’s where it all starts.

If our local schools continue to improve, it will not only attract more families with children to the area, but it will eventually attract outside industry.

Waller also addressed the issues surrounding access to healthcare. MEC sponsor Blue Cross & Blue Shield was on hand to present some of the initiatives underway in Mississippi to help provide better access to medicine and health care, especially in rural areas like the Delta.

We hope these initiatives and others will be successful, and we hope that addressing them together, in context, will help tell a better and more complete story for our community and the state.

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