October 27, 2020

State leader: Mississippi is winning; Is he correct or just wishfully thinking?

Last week, Mississippi’s top economic developer Glenn McCullough Jr. penned a guest column published in many of the state’s newspapers the theme of which was: Mississippi is winning.

McCullough is the executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, the agency tapped with luring new business to our state.

Is McCullough correct? Is Mississippi winning? Let’s explore a couple of his points.

McCullough: “The people of Mississippi are our state’s greatest asset. Our values, our way of life and our diverse, natural beauty make Mississippi a special place.”

Our view: No doubt he’s correct. Mississippi is filled with amazingly talented, kind and generous people (along with a few knuckleheads that tend to give the state a bad reputation to snobs who have never lived here.

McCullough: “Business leaders around the world are investing private capital and creating exciting new careers in Mississippi. In 2018, almost $1.1 billion in private capital investment representing more than 50 economic development wins created 5,106 new jobs in our state. A record number of Mississippians are working today, incomes are up, unemployment is down, and Mississippians are winning.”

Our view: McCullough’s stats may be mostly correct, but Mississippians are still lagging the greater nation on personal income growth. The national average for the third quarter of 2018 (just released last month) showed Mississippi’s personal income increased by 2.3 percent, tied with neighboring Louisiana. But Mississippi’s 2.3 percent lagged other neighbors: Alabama at 3.4 percent, Tennessee at 4.4 percent and Arkansas at 3.0. The U.S. average was 4.0 percent for the same period.

McCullough: “In community and economic development, Mississippi is winning.”

Our view: Mississippi’s extreme poverty continues to drag on the state and its future and while we’ve seen a few bright spots, we still have a long way to go to true economic prosperity. A focus on pulling people up from poverty is a must if our state will ever truly get ahead. Moody’s Investors Services noted in its October update on Mississippi’s economy that the state continues to face significant debt issues — most related to pension liabilities — with each taxpayer responsible for a debt burden of $11,300.

A recent list of state rankings by U.S. News & World Report listed Mississippi’s economy as 48th in the country, with only West Virginia and Alaska behind us.

And our unemployment rate remains one of the highest in the country, 46th out of 50 states.

Mississippi is improving, but to say we’re winning may be a little beyond reality. But what do you think?