Recent editorials from Mississippi newspapers:


Dec. 26

The Brookhaven Daily Leader on the benefits of a new interstate:

With talk of a new interstate being a possibility for Mississippi, area residents can anticipate a boost to the local economy. Just not in the next few years.

Originally proposed in 2005 to extend from Natchez eastward to Georgia or South Carolina, the Gulf Coast Strategic Highway — also known as Interstate 14 — has begun in west Texas. In 2015, Texas received a congressional designation for the interstate mostly consisting of U.S. 190, which cuts through the center of state. This April, the first section of I-14 was officially unveiled: a 25-mile stretch of U.S. 190.

Garrick Combs, executive director of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation, said he is "pretty confident an interstate will be built" if the U.S. Congress designates the route.

If the route becomes a reality, it will likely convert part of Hwy. 84 into interstate highway. That means Brookhaven and Lincoln County would have an additional interstate.

Texas is the only state that has designated roads for this project, so Louisiana and Mississippi need to get on board next. A congressional briefing is anticipated to take place the week of Jan. 22, during which delegates from Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas will meet to garner support for the interstate.

Sen. Sally Doty, R-Brookhaven, who serves on the state Highways and Transportation committee, believes another interstate in the area will definitely be a positive thing.

"Having another interstate gives the potential for more commercial, industrial and distribution center growth in Lincoln County," said Doty. "I believe we would see the same type of businesses that are along I-55 replicated on and east/west route. Many national chains will only locate at an interstate exit and additional exits would provide a boost to the Lincoln County economy."

Although getting the I-14 designation is the first step, the process looks to be a long one. Combs said it took 12 years from the time Hwy. 78 was designated as I-22 for the passage to be completed for motorists. That's plenty of time to recruit new businesses to the area.

"It's going to dramatically increase traffic counts throughout the area, spur commercial and retail development around Hwy. 51 and 84," he said. "It should increase our favorability to companies who need to move lots of goods."

More commercial and retail development means more business for construction crews and more employment opportunities for locals. It also means more opportunities for shopping, lodging and dining out.

We certainly hope that the "Future 14" project will come to fruition and serve as a step in the right direction for the people and businesses of Lincoln County.



Dec. 26

Greenwood Commonwealth on Mississippi's population:

A grim report from the U.S. Census Bureau last week had better get the attention of those interested in the future prosperity of this state.

Mississippi's population, according to the federal head counter's estimates, fell by 1,300 people between July 2016 and July of this year. Mississippi was one of only eight states to experience a drop for the year.

Although this is not a Great Depression-like change, when families in the 1930s Dust Bowl in the Midwest headed in droves to places such as California, the totals mask the fact that a lot more people are choosing to leave the state than come.

The Census Bureau says 9,800 more people moved out of Mississippi in the past year than moved in. It was the arrival of 2,000 foreign immigrants, along with 6,500 more births than deaths, that got the total population loss down to 1,300.

Neighboring Louisiana experienced the same pattern: There were 27,500 more departures than arrivals. But the addition of 7,700 immigrants, along with 18,000 more births than deaths, made up for all but 1,800 of the population loss.

For Mississippi, it's certainly worrisome that the state has lost population for three straight years. If this keeps up much longer, it will be a signal that Mississippi is unable to compete with other states in attracting new residents. That means there will be fewer people here to boost the economy — which is the exact thing that might help convince people to stay put.

Also worrisome is the fact that a lot of college graduates who grew up in Mississippi and earned a degree from one of its universities have gone elsewhere to work. A report to the state College Board last year estimated that only half of the graduates of Mississippi's eight public universities are working in the state five years after getting their degree.

To some extent, this is understandable. Lots of people who grow up in a small town or rural area want to see what a big city is like. It's just disappointing that only half of our best-educated people choose to stay.

But the biggest concern for both Mississippi and Louisiana is how they compare with their neighbors. Alabama's population is up 14,000 over the past year. Arkansas is up 16,000. Tennessee is up 66,000. Florida is up 327,000. And Texas is up 400,000. Those numbers give a pretty strong indication of where people from Mississippi are moving.

The challenge is how to reverse this trend.

Louisiana, with its New Orleans-Baton Rouge population corridor, probably will be OK in the long run. But Mississippi has few large markets to work with, making the task of statewide improvement more difficult.

Here are a couple of ways to do better — if we can muster a decade's worth of patience.

The first order of business is to create jobs. The state keeps throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at big companies that may never make the investment worthwhile. How about taking some of that money and instead investing it in areas, such as better roads and bridges, that will benefit all businesses rather than a select few.

Task No. 2 is education. If smarter people are leaving, it stands to reason that the ranks of the less-educated are growing. The only way to change that is education and job training.

We have to get more aggressive with workforce training, and we have to get more creative and demanding with elementary and high school education.

This will be a long road. It might not succeed for decades. But Mississippi has to try. The census figures say it's time for big changes.



Dec. 22

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal on why health preparedness is worth exploring:

With Mississippi often ranked near or at the bottom of many health-related lists, any statewide success in that area is worth celebrating - even if opportunities for improvement still remain.

Cause for celebration came when the results of Trust for America's Health (TFAH) annual report was released showing Mississippi had met five of the 10 benchmarks.

Mississippi scored ahead of Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana and even with Georgia and Tennessee.

TFAH is based in Washington, D.C., and describes itself as a "a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to saving lives by protecting the health of every community and working to make disease prevention a national priority," according to the organization's website.

The organization produces the annual report with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This year's report, titled "Ready or Not: Protecting the Public's Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism," used a variety of measures to look at how states are prepared to handle a public health emergency, such as wildfires, hurricanes and infectious disease outbreak, among others.

No state met all 10 benchmarks. Massachusetts and Rhode Island scored the highest with 9 out of 10. Alaska had the lowest score with 2 out of 10, as reported by the Daily Journal's Michaela Gibson Morris.

Mississippi did well in a number of measures of public health preparedness. The state improved its overall score on the National Health Security Preparedness Index from 2015 to 2016. The Mississippi State Department of Health became accredited.

The state participates in the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact, making it easier for nurses to respond to emergency needs. The Mississippi Public Health Lab has a biosafety professional and facilitates access to biosafety training.

Mississippi didn't hit the benchmarks in five areas. The state didn't increase or maintain public health funding since fiscal year 2015. Fewer than 70 percent of hospitals report meeting the antibiotic stewardship program core elements.

Only 40.1 percent of the state's population got vaccinated against seasonal flu last year; the benchmark aims for at least half. The Trust uses this measure to gauge the level of children and adults receiving appropriate vaccines. Mississippi doesn't mandate paid sick leave, which is considered an important measure in reducing the spread of contagious disease.

This point in particular is a good example of the opportunity left for improvement throughout our state.

While we realize some families might have personal reservations regarding vaccinations, the fact is they play a significant role in helping reduce the spread of disease in our homes, schools and workplaces.

The report provided broad level recommendations for improvement including the creation of a separate public health emergency fund so resources can be marshaled quickly in the case of a disaster or disease outbreak. That's a valuable suggestion worth conversation on the local and state level.

Making sure Mississippi is ready and able to respond to public health emergencies is a valuable effort worth more time and effort.


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