Education, reform ‘keys’ to good business climate

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 11, 2008

Continued education and business reform are keys to keeping the business climate friendly in Mississippi, officials with the state’s leading business advocacy group said Wednesday.

Those and other issues were the focus of a presentation before more than 100 Vicksburg-Warren County Chamber of Commerce members and elected officials by the Mississippi Economic Council as the group kicked off a 26-city, “Marathon Tour” to gather feedback from the business community as its agenda is set.

Using a series of videos featuring various elected officials and industry leaders, Blake Wilson, MEC president, referenced his native Delaware which has specialized courts for businesses.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“They have one of the best business court systems in America,” Wilson said, adding two-thirds of all U.S. companies chose to incorporate in Delaware.

Supporters of business courts, notably Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, favor setting up such courts so cases such as intellectual property suits can be heard before judges with experience in business law.

Another key aspect of the group’s tour is tied to Gov. Haley Barbour’s Tax Study group, of which Wilson, a former newspaper editor in Delaware and Maryland, is a member.

A final report detailing the group’s recommendations is not expected this year. Plans to address the highly-charged topics of taxes on cigarettes and groceries are tabled until the next legislative session.

Three topics were discussed in detail. They included exemption of the first $10,000 of taxable income for corporations and increasing the standard deduction and personal exemptions in all categories for individual taxpayers.

Another dealt with elimination of tax on warehouse inventory for businesses, often a main source of revenue for county government.

“That’s a real challenge,” Wilson said of the tax, one he described further as “a disincentive to locating businesses in Mississippi. It’s a huge nut to crack.”

Wilson admitted the tax would likely be phased out gradually while other revenue sources to replace it are researched.

Teacher retention remains a key ingredient to enhancing education, along with getting Mississippi’s dropout rate down, Wilson said.

Public Education Forum of Mississippi, a MEC subsidiary, is among groups heading an effort to cut the state’s high school dropout rate in half by 2013. A $1.5 million grant from State Farm Insurance is underwriting the statewide drive. Convincing teachers to stay in the profession beyond retirement eligibility at 25 years is another goal, Wilson said.

Longer-term goals centered on transportation, specifically continuing the Vision 21 highway improvement program and finding ways outside fuel taxes to finance and speed up road construction.

Similar MEC events are scheduled in Philadelphia, Batesville, New Albany, Ripley, Corinth, Greenville, Jackson, McComb, Laurel, Meridian, Grenada, Hernando, Olive Branch, Pascagoula, Bay St. Louis, Gulfport, Wiggins, Starkville, Columbus, Cleveland, Hattiesburg, Natchez, West Point, Tupelo and Brookhaven.