Where is state’s future heading?

By CHARLIE SMITH,

Gross domestic product is the most basic and important measurement of an economy, and a new statistic allows it to be tracked at the local level for the first time.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released in December what it called “prototype estimates” of GDP by county for the years 2012 to 2015. It plans to eventually provide that data each year. What that means is the local areas can track over time the worth of what they produce, including the value of things they make there (goods) and things they are paid to do (services).

The University Research Center, a state agency that does nonpartisan economic analysis, looked at the data from Mississippi in its January newsletter. Although the GDP numbers are now four years old, they still reveal some long-term trends that bear watching. Here are three that jumped out to me:

1. The metro Jackson area is important for the entire state. Its three counties (Hinds, Rankin and Madison) create 25.2 percent of the state’s GDP. The next areas in size are the Gulf Coast (Harrison and Jackson counties) at 14.2 percent and DeSoto County at 4.8 percent. Those former two sit on the state’s edges and benefit primarily from things outside its borders (the Gulf of Mexico and Memphis, respectively).

So Jackson forms the economic heart of Mississippi. Perhaps that’s always been known, but the GDP numbers drive it home further — and create a reason for putting statewide resources into our lone metro area that has long suffered from a lack of infrastructure investment and a hard-to-address racial separation.

2. This may seem paradoxical to the first point, but Mississippi has to figure out a way to build up its rural counties. Less than a third of the counties produced more than three-quarters of the GDP, according to the University Research Center analysis. Those areas are doing relatively well, with a manufacturing base and new stores and homes being built.

But the majority of the state by land area is losing people and struggling to find its place in the 21st century. The economies in those places were dominated by agriculture from the state’s formation up until the mid-20th century followed by low-wage factories that have now moved to where they can get away with paying employees even less in Third World countries.

 

Where does that leave those rural Mississippi communities? No one seems to know, but the good news is that Mississippi is in the middle of what I would call the most desirable area of the country based on geography (the South, with plenty of land and water and blessed with good weather most of the time) in the most desirable nation in the history of the world. Sometimes the many problems distract us from those two basic factors that bode well for the longterm prospects of Mississippi.

But rural economic development must be a priority, not just in the 10 or so thriving counties that control the vote in the Republican primaries and thus dominate the influence of state government. Conservative rural voters need to wake up and make sure the GOP establishment reflects their interests before blindly voting a party-line ballot.

Charlie Smith is editor and publisher of The Columbian-Progress. Reach him at (601) 736-2611 or csmith@columbianprogress.com.

 

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