OUR OPINION: It’s one thing to develop workforce, but another to keep workers in Mississippi

Published 4:00 am Friday, August 18, 2023

Gov. Tate Reeves delivered quite the speech at the Vicksburg Warren Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Wednesday.

As with every other politician during an election year, he was quick to point out his successes on the economic development front. The COVID-19 pandemic, which killed millions, was touted as having a “silver lining” of Mississippi’s marketability for being open for business.

What Reeves didn’t say is, most Mississippians had no choice but to risk their lives to earn what they could and support their families.

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The governor waxed poetic about all of the opportunities his administration has created for workforce development, “preparing the workforce for the jobs we need 50 years from now.”

Vicksburg and Warren County are prime examples of a place where high-paying jobs are prevalent for people with high levels of education. With the highest number of PhDs per capita in the state, a federal installation and a thriving hub for industry, our community is the poster child for workers being trained in Mississippi and choosing to stay in Mississippi.

However, for years, the Magnolia State has been plagued by “brain drain,” when students are educated in-state, trained for high-performing jobs and end up leaving Mississippi for states that either have higher pay or more available jobs.

The Vicksburg Warren School District is doing an excellent job of preparing its students for their next steps in life — but if you ventured to ask what those students’ future plans are, how many of them would stay in Mississippi?

Reeves was correct when he said, under his administration, the state’s average per-capita income increased to $45,000. However, according to 2020 Census data, Mississippi’s median household income is still approximately 30 percent lower than the national average.

Staying in Mississippi is a choice, and Reeves would do well to focus just as much on quality of life as he has on quality of workforce.

It’s one thing to take pride in developing a quality workforce that is equipped to bring economic success to the state, but it’s an entirely different matter to give that workforce a reason to live and work in Mississippi.

If elected to another term, let’s hope Reeves chooses to devote energy to making Mississippi a place workers want to live and work.