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Economic optimism growing statewide

Economy & Jobs and Education & Workforce Preparedness
Top-of-Mind with Voters and Business Leaders for Coming Election Year

A major statewide independent polling project – with separate scientific surveys of Mississippi business and of voters – reports business leaders are optimistic about the future of the economy.  This may be a leading indicator of improving economic conditions on the horizon, which is welcome news at this holiday time.
The triennial Mississippi Economic Council-GodwinGroup Economic State of the State Survey shows a considerable retrenchment of opinion among business leaders regarding current economic conditions compared to findings in 2007.  Eight of 10 business leaders and voters alike rate the current economy as bad.  Profitability findings are comparable to those of May 2001, a time of economic weakness.  
On a more positive note, 45% of business believes Mississippi has weathered the recession better than the rest of the nation, as opposed to only 20% of voters.
What’s more, nearly one-third (32%) of business leaders feel the economy is getting better and over one-fourth (28%) believe they will have more employees by the same time next year.   The better news is that only 7% expect to have fewer employees.  
“After 12 years of surveying, we are now establishing some trend lines that we can observe regarding our economy,” said Jack Reed, Jr., Mayor of Tupelo and MEC Chair for 2010-11.  “As someone who has spent my career running a long-time Mississippi family retail business, this is very useful information for the private sector, but it is also brings valuable insight to governmental leaders, as well.”
An example of one of these trends is a very notable and important positive increase in confidence among business leaders over the last six years for Mississippi as a place to operate a business versus our surrounding states, Reed said.  92% believe Mississippi is better or about the same, as compared to 76% in 2004.
“This is a huge improvement, and is a credit to the leadership of Governor Barbour and the support of our State Legislature,” Reed said.  “We saw the first boost in confidence for Mississippi in 2007 – and the number has held strong within the margin of error in this latest poll, despite the recession.”
There are signs of optimism among business leaders not only about overall economic conditions, but about Mississippi’s ability to compete and move into a place of greater opportunity.  But there are also some interesting contrasts in perception.

* Almost two-thirds (62%) of business leaders believe our nation’s best times are yet to come and 68% expect the Mississippi outlook to improve in the next couple of years.
* In contrast, only 40% of voters believe America’s best times are yet to come and only 50% expect the Mississippi outlook to improve in the next couple of years.
* Fortunately there is optimism in the business community.  An overwhelming 79% of business leaders believe Mississippi can continue to build the same kind of vibrant economy as other high-growth Southern states have over the past 20 years.
An economic downturn creates a feeling of pessimism, which at the time of this survey is still lingering with voters, as 34% say they believe the economy is getting worse, despite the fact that a like number of business leaders (32%) feel improvement.  This is a common trend.
Business leaders generally feel a sense of optimism earlier, because they are closer to the changing marketplace.  
Here in Mississippi business leaders are more directly aware of the positive job-creating and trend-setting economic development project opportunities currently in process, but that won’t be felt as directly by the general public until they actually come on-line in the coming months.
There is no real difference between the two groups when it comes to what’s important for Mississippi in open-ended top-of-mind questioning.  They are almost in lock step.
* Jobs and the economy trumps all at 49% for business and 50% for voters.  
* Education and workforce preparedness takes a predominantly strong second at 24% for business and 18% for voters.
The intensity behind these issues is particularly notable, because no other single issue, including crime or health care, places above the single digits among either group surveyed.
Similar intensity is seen in reacting to how our State should respond to the operating challenges of the recession.  Although they note the downturn has had an impact on state operations, 85% of business leaders and 73% of voters are steadfast in their belief that Mississippi needs to live within its means with the state budget and not raise taxes to deal with budgetary shortages, even if it means cutting services.

“Jobs & the economy and education & workforce preparedness are the issues in the coming election year,” said Blake Wilson, president and CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council, the State Chamber.  “Fortunately, the trend of economic development successes shows Mississippi is moving in the right direction as a result of hard work and a focused effort on the part of the Governor.”
“Governor Barbour’s relentlessly positive leadership and partnership with MDA to bring home major economic development projects, despite challenging times, has paid off for the people of Mississippi in a way that will pay dividends in jobs and opportunity for decades to come,” said Wilson, who also noted enthusiastic support of the Lt. Governor Bryant, Speaker of the House McCoy and the Senate and House.  “As a result, 79% of business leaders have the confidence that Mississippi has the momentum to continue to grow as a major economic development player, just as other high-growth Southern states have over the last two decades.”
In looking to the future, education and economic competitiveness remain cornerstone issues of the business community, as keys for continued economic development success.  These are two issues that have historically been championed by MEC.
* Education — 54 percent of business leaders list education, workforce and job training.
* Economic Competitiveness — 33 percent of business leaders list lower taxes, incentives.
There is also a high interest in early childhood education in Mississippi, with 77% of business leaders and 85% of voters listing it as very important for the success of children.
“These numbers are understandable, considering the fact that over 80% of children under age 5 are enrolled in some sort of child care program outside the home,” Wilson said.  “MEC leaders view this not only as a long-term workforce preparedness issue, but also as a short-term workforce and economic development issue.  Affordable, available and high-quality child care and early learning are important for reducing lost-time and assuring longer tenure.”
The MEC-GodwinGroup Economic State of the State polling was conducted in the three weeks following the November elections surveying 300 voters and 300 business leaders.  There is an error rate of +/- 5%.
“This is a very broad and well-grounded research effort,” said Philip Shirley, co-chairman and CEO of GodwinGroup.  “If the information that has been gathered is used wisely, the survey can be a roadmap for charting a course for a more prosperous and competitive state.”
As a footnote of interest, there is considerable dissatisfaction among business leaders (45%) and voters (48%) alike with the nation’s capital – and about a third of both groups (33% biz) (30% voters) are more than dissatisfied – they are angry with Washington.  Only 1% of business leaders and 11% of voters, for instance, would keep the national health care program, without change.  Only one-fifth of the business leaders (21%) and voters (20%) believe the government stimulus package has made the economy better.
But there is some optimism among the surveyed groups.  71% of business leaders and 63% of voters say recent elections have made us stronger.
For the complete survey results, go to: <>  

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