Eight years ago “Blueprint Mississippi,” a research-based planning initiative facilitated by the Mississippi Economic Council and led by Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, charted a course to improve Mississippi’s economy and education.

    Its top priorities became the focus of “Momentum Mississippi,” the public-private partnership formed by Governor Haley Barbour to mold the state’s long range strategies.

    Touted outcomes that the 2004 planning effort helped frame and promote include:

    1) Enhanced competitiveness and an improved business climate as a result of comprehensive tort reform, improved economic development incentives including new ones for existing businesses, and a public-private targeted industry recruitment program;

    2) Improved worker training through the streamlining of the workforce development system to a single Workforce Investment Board with training provided by the Mississippi Community and Junior College System and through increased training funds provided by Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund transfers to the new Workforce Enhancement Training Fund;

    3) Improved technology transfer by creation of a private sector Angel Fund operated by the Mississippi Technology Alliance and ramping up university research and development; and

    4) Improved education by piloting early childhood development programs, initiating a strong, statewide drop-out prevention program, and implementing alternate teacher certification programs.

    Today, another “Blueprint Mississippi” planning process is underway led by IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds and facilitated by the MEC.  Four key focus areas have been identified: 1) economic competitiveness, which includes everything from entrepreneurship to workforce development to industry clusters to regional cooperation; 2) educational achievement, which includes early childhood development as well as K-12, college, and university improvements; 3) technology commercialization; and 4) resource management, which will focus on growing opportunities for natural resource development along with cultural, tourism, and human resources.

    The intent is for vetted, research-based outcomes of this planning process to guide newly elected and appointed state officials in future economic development and education improvement efforts. The vetting will come from the hundreds – maybe thousands – of Mississippians who choose to participate in the process.

    You see, the MEC has developed a wide open method for Mississippians to be real “stakeholders” in the planning process. Anyone can go to www.blueprintmississippi.com and sign up as a stakeholder. Then, participation is as easy as logging on to a website and joining in the conversation.

    While business leaders may fund and university researchers shape the process, the MEC is giving all interested Mississippians a great opportunity to provide input and help pick Mississippi’s future economic and education targets.

    "You can't hit a target you cannot see,” counseled Yazoo City’s Zig Ziglar, “and you cannot see a target you do not have."

    Here’s to those willing to craft a useful blueprint for Mississippi that can help our incoming leaders to not only see, but hit, the right targets.

    Bill Crawford (crawfolk@gmail.com) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.

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