In Mississippi, Haggard’s question still resonates more than 30 years later. More than merely the intrinsic artistic value of hearing “The Hag” moan the working man’s blues, there’s the examination of just what’s waiting down the line for the people who populate the poorest state in the union.
Let’s face it — the last decade hasn’t been a walk in the park for Mississippians and that’s considering the usual suspects including decades of endemic, systemic poverty, lack of educational attainment and poor health.
Add to those woes Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Great Recession, the BP Horizon oil spill and the rocket ride of soaring energy prices during some of the worst periods of the state’s recent economic history in a state where high fuel prices exact a double whammy on people dependent on traveling farm to market roads and commuting from areas of high unemployment to where the jobs are.
That’s why recent state economic achievement numbers are so encouraging.
The U.S. Commerce Department reports that Mississippi’s Gross Domestic Product grew 2.4 percent in 2012, topping $100 billion for the first time in the state’s history. Those numbers exceeded the Southeast region’s average performance of 2.1 percent growth.
The Memphis Business Journal recently cited an analysis of Gov. Phil Bryant’s jobs creation efforts that ranked him 14th among the nation’s governors. Area Development Magazine this year awarded Mississippi a third consecutive “Silver Shovel” award for innovative and effective state economic development agency performance.
There are other numbers that speak to the Bryant-era successes of the reconstituted Mississippi Development Authority. But the most impressive thing is the laundry list of economic development victories that includes: Yokohama Tire, 500 jobs; General Dynamics Information Technology, 1,250 total jobs; Nissan, 1,000 new jobs and a total of more than 5,000 jobs; Aurora Flight, 250 jobs; VT Halter Marine, 400 new jobs with a total of more than 2,000 jobs; Comfort Revolution, 200 jobs; and others stretching back to 2012.
Where Bryant has made the greatest progress is embracing the reality that Merle Haggard sang about. A lot of the old factory jobs are gone and will stay gone – and those losses come from force far beyond the control of state job creation efforts. Changing technologies, changing corporate strategies and the hard lessons of free markets.
Mississippi’s largest non-agricultural jobs sectors are government jobs at 22.2 percent, trade, transportation and utilities at 19.27 percent, education & healthcare at 12.18 percent, manufacturing at 12.06 percent and tourism/hospitality at 11.28 percent. Diversifying Mississippi’s economy, capitalizing on the emerging energy economy, and creating regional clusters among like industries is a strategy that appears to be working.
Consumer confidence is recovering as well. The state’s revenue stream improved to the point that Mississippi’s Fiscal Year 2013 revenue collections exceeded the state’s Revenue Estimating Committee’s forecast by more than $295 million — evidence that the state’s economy is recovering in the most tangible way possible.
Even some of the state’s most conservative lawmakers are having to admit that after years of budget cuts and austere budgets, a growth-driven opportunity may well be on the horizon to be able to begin building back for the state’s emerging new economy — one that encourages good times to come.
(Daily Corinthian and syndicated columnist Sid Salter can be contacted at 601-507-8004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)