Katrina might have walloped the Magnolia state with a punch that staggered its residents. But, a Mississippi Economic Council survey indicates its resilient people have bounced off the mat with a rather optimistic outlook about the state's future. That was the assessment of the economic council's director on his visit to Biloxi.
Blake Wilson is going around the state on his organization's fall tour, talking with business leaders about education and workforce development. Those issues are considered critical to Mississippi's economic future.
These days, the state's economy sometimes gets lost in the hurricane debris piles that still linger around south Mississippi. Katrina's scars are still easy to see. But from an economic perspective, they're healing a lot quicker than anybody anticipated.
"And I think that comes from the fact that the spirit of the coast shines through again," Wilson said.
Wilson's economic council just completed a survey about Mississippi's current economic climate. Three out of five people said Mississippi was moving in the right direction. And an astonishing 95 percent of the business community said the same thing.
"I think what that tells us is from an economic development point of view, people feel very positive about how the state is positioned," Wilson said.
His most startling finding was something Matthew Lewis already knew.
"It's really hard to find people with the right experience right now," the Treasure Bay chef said.
The survey indicated that 40 percent of the state's business community is having trouble attracting and keeping qualified workers.
"That's the greatest argument for increased spending on workforce development, education," the economic council director said. "We've got to make this a long term, consistent priority."
Wilson called the 40 percent finding "the scary number" in his survey
It's especially scary if you're a chef, looking for qualified people to work in a fine dining kitchen. And that kitchen opens in a couple of weeks.
"It's quite disheartening to try and find people that can do the job and do it right," said Lewis.
To combat the hiring problems, Treasure Bay's chef believes workforce training should become more essential.
"I think that falls upon the managers, the chefs on the coast to continually educate their employees," Lewis said.
That way, his staff will offer customers the kind of service they deserve. And the state will reap the residual benefits.
Here's one more finding from the Mississippi Economic Council survey. More than 80 percent of the business leaders and the citizens questioned think early childhood education must become a priority if the state is going to take steps to better train its workforce. However, the survey clearly showed that nobody could agree on how to make early childhood education a reality.