If you had $18 million to invest in your community, what would you focus on?

There are few things more important to community and economic development than good schools. That’s why I’ve often said that the greatest thing that could happen to my city would be that the public schools were so good that there would be a waiting list for students to get in. Consequently, I’m interested in following projects that attempt to improve schools and communities.

The Kalamazoo Promise is one such project. Basically, it is a community revitalization project begun in 2006 that offers incentives – in this case, scholarships – for families that move into Kalamazoo, Michigan. It is an economic development project that invests in human capital. As of summer 2010, the program had paid out $18 million in tuition for about 2,000 high school graduates to attend Michigan universities. Below are links to webpages that provide more information about the project. So here is the question to you: If you had $18 million to invest in your community, where would you put it?

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The Kalamazoo Promise website.
Why these kids get a free ride to college – NY Times article
Kalamazoo Promise article at Wikipedia
Kalamazoo Promise featured on NBC Nightly News

 

Successful economic developers look thorugh the customer’s eyes

July 7, 2014

“What do I have to do to win your business?”

That’s a common question (or comment) heard from auto dealership lots to office suites. It’s how many salespersons have been trained to open up the customer to begin negotiations. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s a way for the salesperson to show that he or she doesn’t know much about the customer.

Economic developers are many things: Facilitators, information specialists, real estate finance experts, and – yes – salespersons. Good salespersons know that one of the best things to do is to put one’s self in the shoes of the customer, so to speak, because sometimes even the customer doesn’t know what it takes to win his or her business.

The July/August issue of Inc. magazine contains an article entitled, “The Come-Hither Tax Breaks.” It discusses how companies should be prepared “… to be wooed and persuaded by states looking for a long-term relationship with your technology company.” It is recommended reading for economic developers who want to understand just a little more about how companies view state tax breaks and to see the deal though the customer’s eyes.

Raising the Minimum Wage in Mississippi: An Econometric Model

March 31, 2014

An Economic Brief from the University Research Center at the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning entitled “Raising the minimum wage in Mississippi: An econometric model” is well worth reading.

Here’s the Executive Summary:

Recently, President Obama called for an increase in the Federal minimum wage. Congress had also responded by introducing the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013 (S. 460). That legislation if enacted will increase the minimum wage in three steps, from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. The rate will then be indexed to inflate on each year thereafter. In addition, the legislation will increase the required cash wage for tipped workers in annual 85 cent increases, from today’s $2.13 per hour until the tip credit reaches 70 percent of the regular minimum wage. Several other US Senate and House bills including S. 1737, H.R. 1010 and 3746, have also been introduced to increase the minimum wage. None have been enacted to date. The President also issued an Executive Order raising the minimum wage for Federal Contractors to $10.10. Using the Regional Economic Models, Inc. Mississippi model PI+ V1.5.3, it is estimated that initially 1,766 jobs will be lost in the fi rst year, rising to 9,139 by 2028 then beginning a slow increase in jobs over the next 30 years, absent any other economic change in the economy.

What Business Expects From Schools – Notes from a panel discussion

“What Business Expects of (the local school district) and What Businesses Can Do to Assist (the local school district) in Reaching Those Goals” was the subject of a panel discussion sponsored by the Jackson Public Schools Partners in Education. The panelists included representatives of a medical center, an engineering firm, a life insurance company, an employment agency and an economic developer. Below is a summary of their comments.

- Students need to know how to communicate. That includes speech, dress and nonverbal language. If they cannot communicate well they cannot represent their employer well.

- Students needs to know about time management. For example, a student who spends more time studying for the first test they are taking instead of the more important test they are to take indicates that the student needs to manage time better.

- Independent learning is something that workers will do for the rest of their lives, so students need to understand how to learn on their own as well as with a group.

- Large businesses need all types of skills. Students should no shy away from applying with a company just because they do not have the skills for the company’s main focus. Large companies need accounting, marketing and human resource personnel even though the company may be in a very technical business.

- Social media matters. Students should know that their social media pages, images and comments will follow them for a lifetime and will be used in consideration of employment.

- Employers are concerned that students do not have basic math skills.

- Drug tests are routinely given by many employers at the time of application and randomly during employment.

The panelists pointed out that schools should not be hesitant about asking for business support, but that schools should have specific requests and proposals in mind. Panelists gave a summary of how their companies and organizations interacted with their school partners.

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l-r Mark Bailey – Neel-Schaffer Engineering, Stephanie Hopkins Southern Farm Bureau Life, Phil Hardwick – Stennis Institute, Natalie Gaughf – University Mississippi Medical Center, Carolyn Boteler – Tempstaff.

Tourism spending in the Deep South

February 17, 2014

A recent Natchez Democrat article entitled “State officials lobbying for more tourism funds,” by Lindsey Shelton, got my attention because a graphic at the beginning of the story listed tourism spending by several states. Wondering what the per capita spending might be for those states I took the numbers in the article and divided them by the 2010 population numbers. Here are the results:

Florida
Population 18,801,310
Tourism Spending $65 million
Tourism Spending per capita $3.48

Tennessee
Population 6,346,105
Tourism Spending $29 million
Tourism Spending per capita $4.57

Alabama
Population 4,779,736
Tourism Spending $18 million
Tourism Spending per capita $3.77

Mississippi
Population 2,967,297
Tourism Spending $6 million
Tourism Spending per capita $2.02

10 Things I Learned While Writing The Mississippi Mysteries Series

Over the past few years I wrote 10 short novels set in Mississippi in Mississippi towns.  Here are 10 things I learned about Mississippi while writing the series:

1.  there are white squirrels in Columbia that were imported by a former mayor;

2.  acetaminophen can be used as a poison;

3.  during World War II the Town of Flora tripled in size because of a gunpowder plant;

4.  there are haunted houses in many towns;

5.  there is a library in a former jailhouse in Macon;

6.  there is a cemetery monument of an angel crying over the loss of a local citizen in Columbus;

7.  when the Mississippi State (new) Capitol was dedicated there was a contingent of Confederate war veterans in the parade;

8.  the Church of God in Christ was begun in Lexington;

9.  that Holiday Inn University was located in Olive Branch; and

10. the Dizzy Dean Baseball World Series is held in Southaven.

 

The Disconnect Between Economic Developers and Community Developers

In some communities it seems that economic developers and community developers are as different as night and day. That is no wonder given the roles that each are expected to play. But in some communities and at the state level these roles are becoming more blended as communities recognize the advantages of these groups working together.

Generally, economic developers, because of their emphasis on jobs and economy, tend to be around business leaders and organizations that are concerned with private sector employment. Community developers, because of their emphasis on serving the needs of low and moderate income persons, tend to be around social service providers and others with similar concerns. In many cases, the political philosophies of the two are far apart. And in many cases, the two groups are not in constant contact with each other about their communities’ future. As some would say, they are just cut from a different cloth. That is not the case at the state level.

The Mississippi Development Authority, formerly known as the Mississippi Department of Economic and Community Development, has for many years placed both functions under the same umbrella. It is responsible not only for economic development, but community development as well. The result is a more cohesive and coordinated approach.

Local leaders may benefit by examining whether there is a disconnect between economic development and community development in their communities, and then finding the right combination for them. There is not a perfect model, but when the two entities do not work together the outcome is less than desirable.