Mississippi Economic Council Tour visits Rotary

President and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership Scott Maynard and Associate Director of the Office of Institute Research and Effectiveness Tracey Baham joined Mississippi Economic Council interim President and CEO Scott Waller during the Rotary Club program Monday at the Mill. (Photo by Mary Rumore, SDN)
Staff Writer

The Mississippi Economic Council Tour provided the program for the Starkville Rotary Club Monday at The Mill Conference Center.

MEC Interim President and CEO Scott Waller was the speaker during the program.

"We want to focus on economic development and what it means in terms of job creation, strengthening our infrastructure and developing a business climate that allows businesses to not only grow, but attract new businesses and employees to the state of Mississippi," Waller said.

Attendees were able to vote in a series of polls throughout the program, and 62 percent of the attendees voted "yes" when asked if they believed Mississippi's economy is better off today than it was five years ago.

"To continue this trend, what we have to do is start thinking differently about the way we do things," Waller said. "What I mean by that is, if you keep doing things like you've always done, you get the same results."

Of the roughly 120 people in attendance, 58 percent voted a more skilled workforce is the top factor in improving and creating a robust economy in Mississippi.

"Workforce development begins at pre-K and goes on through life-long learning," Waller said. "It's no question that education and workforce are a single issue."

Waller said infrastructure is an important factor in maintaining a healthy economy and workforce because every Mississippian uses infrastructure for work and leisure, all businesses utilize transportation and it causes a decline in unemployment.

"When it comes to workforce development, a good highway system is the number one thing businesses look at when they talk about locating in your area," Waller said.

Waller said MEC is working with state leaders to put dollars into improving the state's infrastructure and effective ways to improve it.

Waller said maintaining a healthy lifestyle is another important factor in having a productive workforce in Mississippi.

"When it comes to healthy lifestyles, it's extremely important that we have a productive workforce that's healthy, because that means they miss work less and they're able to be better employees and citizens overall," he said. "It adds strength to the community and it lowers health costs, which is important to us all."

According to Waller, 40,000 jobs are unfilled in Mississippi, and 61 percent of jobs in the state require some post-secondary education or training.

By 2020, 65 percent of jobs in the US will require some sort of post-secondary education or training beyond high school, according to a study by Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Waller pointed to a need for workers in all STEM fields and for healthcare professionals in Mississippi.

Waller said the Mississippi Scholars and Mississippi Scholars Tech Master programs are located in over 70 counties in Mississippi, and MEC is working to get the programs in all school districts in the state. Both programs focus on creating better students and preparing students for college, as well as exposing students to different job opportunities in the state.

President and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership Scott Maynard and Associate Director of the Office of Institute Research and Effectiveness Tracey Baham joined Waller to discuss programs in Oktibbeha County that are working to further create a skilled workforce in the area.

Maynard said partnerships with the Golden Triangle Development Link, Mississippi State University, East Mississippi Community College and public and private schools are all working toward opportunities to enhance the state's workforce in the future.

"We are seeking opportunities to cultivate relationships," Maynard said.

Maynard said the new partnership school at MSU and Communiversity through EMCC provide educational partnerships to students in the area.

Baham said the OrgSync program at MSU is another workforce development program that all MSU students participate in.

"This program started out as a way to document extracurricular activities, whether its membership in a student organization or logging volunteer hours or participating in internships," Baham said. "We're adding another layer to it that allows them to reflect on those experiences and connect them to the classroom. It allows them to take content knowledge and translate them into practical skills."