'Preparation' leads to success
Appeared in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger Dec. 27, 2006
Success happens when opportunity collides with preparation. For a really bad reason, we have an opportunity that doesn't come along that often. As our governor and members of our Legislature have said over and over, that historic storm that smacked into our Gulf Coast created an opportunity to redefine our reputation and our architecture for economic development.
Our success in exploiting this opportunity depends on our preparation—federal, state and community funding decisions made this year will impact our preparation and will shape our future.
The preparation part of the success equation has lots of components. An important one is how business-friendly we prepare our state to be toward corporate America. The governor, the Legislature, and our counties and communities have worked hard to make the state attractive to business. We have a good team and our strategy is clear—we want business to come to Mississippi. But pulling the trigger on that strategy means we will have to stay ahead of other states that have the same economic development goals. Innovative laws and policies will provide an edge in the jobs market.
Transportation is a checklist item among the factors that impact corporate location decisions. A great strategic plan formulated several years ago and supported by state and federal representatives has resulted in an excellent state highway system. That's a great example of this state preparing for success.
We need some work on air transportation, but—as the expression goes—build it and they will come. As we create more jobs that require commercial air service, airlines will recognize and respond to an expanded business base.
If you're a business executive, how can you not be impressed by our communities and their citizens? The courage and compassion of Mississippians were noticed nationally during Katrina—no whining and complaining here, just brothers and sisters on one end of the state reaching out to brothers and sisters on the other end. You have to like that if you value your employees. But it doesn't take a disaster to prove we are a friendly and caring state. If we can get people to come here, they'll want to stay.
Hospitality and compassion are subjective measures, but they're also subtle checklist items for corporations making decisions about where to find a suitable work force.
The composition and qualifications of the work force are major factors in the equation that defines the solution for plant beddown. A critical part of the preparation that will collide with opportunity is how well we prepare our citizens for an increasingly sophisticated work force.
We need to prepare qualified workers across a spectrum of skills, including high school graduates who can be trained to do the foundational work of our state. That part of our work force continues to be fundamental to our productivity.
We also need to prepare technicians who can provide the expertise and oversight for day-to-day operations of our systems, plants, and communities. We need to prepare the professionals who design and manage our systems, plants, and communities, and who make up the final part of the continuum of work force availability.
Here's a dose of the obvious—preparing that work force continuum requires an effective and efficient education system. The workforce continuum is fed by our K-12 system, our community/junior college system, and our public and private colleges and universities. All of these systems are important and necessary components.
We have to trust our state leadership to allocate revenues to make sure we maintain the health of our education-workforce continuum. Balance is important. Investing in our future is important. Education at all levels is an important aspect of our preparation for a collision with opportunity.
Here's another dose of the obvious—Mississippi should pursue a strategy of enhancing four fundamental aspects of our education continuum:
- Prepare and pay for good teachers. Then, ensure that teachers have the space and equipment to arm our youth with the knowledge they need to enter the work force or the next phase of their education.
- Prepare our work force by supporting the superb community college/junior college system in our state. This component is vitally important.
- Follow through by committing to our four-year universities. That requires funding for a qualified and committed faculty, quality facilities, and modern equipment.
- Fourth—and this is my prejudice as the lead Dawg at the People's University—we need a system that offers hope to the thousands of students graduating from our high schools who have the academic ability and character to continue their education, but can't afford it. Prepare them for success! That's an area of work force preparation where we are losing ground. We need a Promise Program or a Hope Program to retain young men and women who could be part of our next generation of leaders, if we don't price them out of our universities.
Pulling the trigger on these components will be a great start toward the second most important investment a nation or state can make—the education of our sons and daughters. (My personal prejudice is that our most important investment is ensuring security for our citizens.)
Our success depends on our ability to take advantage of an opportunity created by Hurricane Katrina.
Our challenge is to continue down the preparation glide slope by committing to the work force continuum fed by our education system—K-12 through baccalaureate degrees. Our strategy—and our commitment to fund it—will enable us to educate our state's sons and daughters, who will drive the preparation component of our success equation.