President of the Mississippi Economic Council Blake Wilson visited West Point Wednesday and talked about the importance of keeping communities focused on the state’s economic development initiative and talked about the importance of education for community growth.
Wilson said it’s important for local economic development agencies and its members to recognize what it takes to successfully grow their community, and some of the biggest things that it takes, he said, are a sense of community, unification among residents and balanced representation. He said years ago, people would bring their concerns and ideas to the MEC in Jackson, but they would never get considered because only those in Jackson would make economic development decisions. Today, that is not the case, he said, and it’s all because of the right representation in the MEC.
“The table must be larger and rounder, and that’s what I passionately believe in,” Wilson said. “You have to make sure you have lots of different folks around the table. You have to make sure that you have a community that is well-represented, and while that may take more time on the front end, it will take less time at the back end to accomplish what you want to accomplish.”
Wilson said some small communities around Mississippi that are trying to grow are making progress, even though it’s difficult to see sometimes. Part of the reason for that progress is smaller communities don’t have the challenges that some well-developed states have. Some of those challenges in well-developed states are not being able to get people to pull together for a community project because residents prefer to relax and enjoy what’s already there instead of bettering their town and retired residents not wanting to invest in the school systems, he said. Because small Mississippi towns and neighboring communities pull together and obligate themselves to better education, the state is slowly “overtaking the economy of the industrial north,” he said.
Wilson, whose parents were civil rights leaders in the North, said Mississippi has made great progress in overcoming racial barriers to make sure industry leaders recognize the state’s potential of being amongst the leading places with economic success.
“I believe that we have a much stronger racial reconciliation in this state today than some of our northern counterparts,” he said. “The reason is we went through more pain to get there, and with that pain came gain. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to make sure that we pull all of our community together and share a common vision.”
One common vision is for Mississippi’s educational system to be the best and one that can be modeled for other states. Wilson said Mississippians must continue to invest in education in order to see economic change in their communities.
Programs put in place today to improve education and other areas of the state must remain in place as part of the incremental progress of moving the state forward, Wilson said. West Point and the Golden Triangle has the tools needed for growth, such as community colleges and universities, and Wilson said when industry leaders locate to West Point, they can benefit not only from West Point but the asset of the entire Golden Triangle and abroad.
When it comes to public education, K-12 education in Mississippi is not funded as it should be, Wilson said. As a result, the school systems are not delivering the products they should be delivering. Wilson said community members must stand behind the recently passed accountability model that dismisses superintendents whose school districts fail after two years.
“It’s tough love, but we cannot afford to miss generation after generation,” Wilson said. “We have an obligation not to lose a generation. We have to be demanding, and we have to take an interest. What a difference parental and community involvement can make. An educated workforce is what matters.”