August 10, 2017. It is the final morning of a wonderful vacation in Ireland. Up early, I reflect on the kind and welcoming people of Ireland we have met. I marvel at Ireland’s ability to attract businesses to the Emerald Isle. Google, Accenture, Facebook, Paypal. The list goes on and on. I compare and contrast Ireland’s business attraction efforts with those of Mississippi. Lots of similarities, especially when it comes to using tax incentives as inducements.
Being the news junkie I am I go down to the lobby of the Dublin hotel and fetch the day’s edition of the Irish Times. There in the top right hand corner of the front page I discover this 5 x 2.5 inch preview box: “Travels in Trump’s America. Oxford, Mississippi attempts to move on from its history of segregation.”
Oh no, I think. Here we go again. Another example of Mississippi’s history of race relations continuing to be the proverbial albatross around its neck. How does that affect international business attraction? I tell myself not get too defensive. Perhaps the article will turn out to be positive. After all, Oxford, Mississippi is a desirable place. I open to page nine. The headline there reads, “Segregation still alive and well in the deep south.” I delve into the report. My coffee is getting cold.
The story is part of a series about an Irish Times reporter’s visit to America. Each day a different state. I read page nine.
In the middle of the page is a large black and white photograph of James Meredith surrounded by students at Ole Miss in 1962. Below are two more photographs. These are in color and depict two African-American women. In bold print below them reads, “Mississippi, a state with a population of approximately three million, still has one of the highest proportions of black people in the US.”
The article opens with an account of James Meredith’s entry into Ole Miss and the surrounding events followed by the reporter’s perception of Oxford today. It is mostly complimentary. The opening sentence: “Today the old university town of Oxford, Mississippi, is the picture of of southern refinement.” The closing sentence: “After a leisurely stroll around the bookshops I reluctantly leave the slow-paced vibe and drive westward through Mississippi.”
The next paragraph has a subhead: “Slave Labor,” and then goes on to recount a brief demographic history of the Delta followed by the subject of the Cleveland School District case.” It’s a long section. The article’s closing sentence reads, “As I leave Cleveland and trace the trajectory of the Mississippi river upstream toward Memphis, it’s clear the problem of racial segregation has yet to be resolved.”
My reaction to this article is conditioned by my background in economic development. I think about what it would be like if on this day if I was on a recruiting trip to Ireland to meet with a company about opening a branch office or manufacturing facility in Mississippi. Then I think about Mississippi’s current international recruiting efforts.
In spite of stories like the above in world newspapers the Mississippi Development Authority, the state’s business recruiting agency, is doing admiral, even incredible work. Its successes have been recognized recently with national awards and rankings in economic development and business magazines. It has offices in other countries. German manufacturer Continental Tire has a plant under construction. International companies such as PACCAR, Airbus Helicopters and Yokohama Tire, are changing the economic landscape in the Golden Triangle. Nissan and Toyota have world-class manufacturing facilities in Mississippi. We are accomplishing significant workforce development outcomes with our nationally-ranked community colleges in partnership with international companies.
So where do we go from here? The answer is that we keep focusing on the good things and working on the not-so-good things. One strategy that works well in spite of the above newspaper reporter’s visit is to attract visitors to Mississippi so that they can see for themselves. And let’s not forget the student international visitors. According to the US Global Leadership Coalition, during 2015, 3,101 international students were enrolled in Mississippi colleges and universities and contributed $65 million to the Mississippi economy. Hopefully they had a positive experience and will tell their stories in their home countries.
Also, we must remember that in spite of our image overall, business leaders evaluate relocations based on many factors.
Mississippi is a paradox in so many ways. It has some of the best things in the world going for it while at the same time having many things that need some work. It is not a one-subject story.
Link to the Irish Times article: