About 60 people attended the first “B2B” luncheon of the season, Thursday, Sept. 17, at In Bloom reception hall in downtown New Albany.
CREATE Senior Vice-President Lewis Whitfield was the speaker for the luncheon. He spoke about some of the problems facing northeast Mississippi and what might be done to alleviate them.
Whitfield praised the efforts of New Albany business and civic leaders that have resulted in significant improvements in economic opportunity and quality of life in recent years. He also lauded the fact that New Albany is one of the counties that provides two years of free tuition to the community colleges for residents who graduate high school and maintain an acceptable academic performance in college. The performance of the New Albany and Union County public schools was also praised.
Among the problems Whitfield cited:
–Per capita income in northeast Mississippi is $2,500 lower each year than the Mississippi average.
–Between 1995 and 2010 northeast Mississippi lost half of the manufacturing jobs in the 17-county region, a decline from 72,000 manufacturing jobs down to 36,000.
“Why is it we’re on the bottom,” he asked rhetorically.
And he answered in one word: “Education.
Whitfield pointed out that school districts in the 17-county region that are not performing well also have a higher percentage of lower income students, and that 71% of students are from low income families. He said that 55% of all the babies born in Mississippi are born to single mothers.
He demonstrated that poor education is one of the problems in recruiting and retaining sophisticated manufacturing operations. “There are jobs at Toyota with nobody to fill them,” Whitfield said.
Whitefield told of a CREATE program that will help pay for the education of 200 teachers if they stay in Mississippi to teach.
The B2B luncheons are funded by a grant from Toyota Manufacturing Mississippi and are coordinated by the UCDA. The luncheons are free to interested individuals, but seating is limited. The next B2B luncheon will be Oct. 15 at the New Albany Civic Center. Seating will be available for about 45 individuals.
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