By Mickey Howley
Bob Tyler and I took a trip to the beach last week. It is something we have been doing together for three years in a row every July.
Why? The short answer is because we like to party on the coast! Just kidding, sort of. Actually the reason we were in Biloxi is a bit stranger than that, because we go for the Mississippi Economic Development Council summer conference. So our beach trip is for and about business. Which means lots of meetings and talks in big chilly windowless hotel meeting rooms. No sand, no swimsuits, no tropical libations. I bring a couple of suits and ties and leave the Speedo at home. Bob does the same.
This year Mississippi is looking at how we’re doing versus the surrounding states. It is a mixed answer depending on whom you hear and the criteria used. In a number of business friendly categories Mississippi is way up, like doing really well. Many positives. Hold on just a second, we still have a bunch of issues in the perception and quality of life categories. Many folks still see us as number 50 and not the place to live. That personally drives me a bit nuts. And states like Louisiana and South Carolina are kicking our tail recently with new business landings. Mississippi is doing an increasingly better job on that level, but they are doing exceptional.
Much of the talk at MEDC is about bringing in industry and people to the state. That’s only a third of the big economic development picture. Just a quick refresher course on the economic eco-system. Economic development is bringing in outside industry and people. True, but that’s the big sexy part that many overly fixate on. And only the first third of the pie. The second third of development is making the existing businesses and people here better and bigger. The last third is helping local people get started and up and going strong with readily available local assets. Those second two pieces really help the first. I always think that if you are bringing somebody in, no matter the incentives used to entice them, it is way better for a town to look fit and active than stump dead.
The point was made over and over that if Mississippi is to “move the needle” of our economic gauge, all three parts must work harder and together.
Governor Phil Bryant wrapped up the conference with a rousing talk. It is pretty clear economic progress is foremost on his mind. Bob and I were happy to hear him plug Water Valley four times, more than any other town. The recent Borg Warner expansion combined with our Creative Economy progress is the direction he sees Mississippi going. That made the trip to Biloxi worthwhile for Bob and me, even if we didn’t go swimming.
Playing at the Farmers Market this coming Saturday morning is local band Love Cannon. That’s Amy and Luke Fisher with Donovan McCain and occasionally Kevin Guyer. They have a great sound and host of tunes and it is great fun to watch Amy wrestling that big upright bass. And it is not only music this next market, but the arts and crafts will be out in force. Come out and see who is being creative with what. Remember the thing about the Valley FM is it is always local and hand-made or hand-grown. Plus you get to meet the person who made the product or grew the produce. It’s Saturday morning under the Big Magnolia from 8 to 11. See you there!