MEC offers economic lessons

Published 9:04 am Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Blake Wilson, president and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council, laid out the council’s Blueprint Mississippi program for economic development to members of the Picayune community at Southern Char Steakhouse Tuesday as part of their MEC Pacesetter Tour.

The event was hosted by Rotary Club of Picayune and the Greater Picayune Area

Chamber of Commerce.

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The ideas Wilson focused on included: economic competitiveness, educational achievement and workforce preparedness, resource management and technology commercialization.

Wilson came to discuss challenges facing Mississippi’s economy as the MEC is preparing to release their findings in a report on Dec. 18.

Wilson’s presentation incorporated an interactive experience for the attendees. Each person was given a clicker with which they could vote on different questions.

39.68% of people who voted responded they see Mississippi as a newly emerging growth state. A number of the other questions received additional hope and optimism for Mississippi’s development as an economic force.

The presentation shed light on Mississippi’s dire need for the state to invest in infrastructure maintenance.

Failing bridges and roads present a large issue for Mississippi. Out of 936 state bridges, 703 are considered functionally obsolete while 219 are deemed structurally deficient. As for county bridges, out of 2,716 bridges, 300 are labeled functionally obsolete and 1,896 are structurally deficient. At the municipal level of 273 bridges, 138 are functionally obsolete and 105 are structurally deficient.

Wilson said the statistics concerning road conditions are also cause for concern. Out of 24,491 state miles, 17,181 call for preventative maintenance, 6,094 need minor rehabilitation and 1,316 need major rehabilitation. At the county level, 13,491 miles are in poor condition and 10,378 are in very poor conditions. At the city level 3,040 are in poor conditions and 2,814 are in very poor condition.

Wilson said this issue is not unique to any one part of the state or county—it is all over, he said.

“Now we have to come up with the resources necessary to tackle the local and state crumbling bridges. There are over 4,000 bridges that are deficient in some way in Mississippi. We just have to deal with it because we’re going to have some bridges fail and then we’re going to be in trouble,” Wilson said.

He said the fact that Mississippi is such a rural state makes the roads and bridges crucial because people are dependent on them to get around.

“If nothing is done to improve road and bridge conditions, the average cost per driver would approach $640 per year and it is cheaper to perform preventative maintenance rather than wait and overhaul the asset when it is failing,” Wilson said.

Wilson also said public education in Mississippi is a way to improve the state’s economic success.

He stressed the success of MEC’s Mississippi Scholars program, which emphasizes a STEM focus with a rigorous curriculum to prepare students for college. The program, which started in 2003 with two districts and 24 students, now is in 90 districts and has produced over 31,000 graduates. In 2014, they started the Mississippi Scholars Tech Masters, which focuses on a career and technical curriculum to place students in the work force.

Wilson believes that Pearl River County is ripe with opportunity to grow.

“This is an opportunity for a community to come together and say let’s seize the day. I’ve seen it happen over and over again in Mississippi. Here’s a great chance,” Wilson said.