January 26, 2009 Rotogram

BASEBALL IS NEAR

With less than a month to go before baseball season, Coach John Cohen brings us a preview of his first season at the Diamond Dogs’ helm.

ENERGY AND BUSINESS

Wayne Henson, executive director of the East Mississippi Electric Power Association will be our guest speaker next week.

JANUARY 12

Invocation and Pledge: Jim Tisdale

Attendance: There were 136 members (46 exempt) present, and 65 (10 exempt, 8 honorary) absent.

Guests and visitors: Bill Overstreet of West Point continued his attendance streak as our visiting Rotarian. Members’ guests were Ken Stringer of Tommy Prentice, Mary Sebba of Linda Karen Smith, Mike Vance of Stu Vance, and Rodney Foil of Roy Ruby. Guests of the Club were Jarred Reneau, Ambassadorial Cultural Scholar, Taka Sato, Youth Exchange Student, and Paul Sims of the Starkville Daily News.

Kudos:  President Chip complimented Steve Langston on the 50th anniversary of Sullivan’s Office Supply.

Rotary Minute:  Brian Jones brought a humorous report of the Fayetteville, AR Club’s online orientation questions. “Ask Uncle Ronnie: Everything your sponsor should have told you”  can be found at www.fayettevillerotary.org/AskUncleRonnieMarch2008.pdf.

RODEO

  • Rotarians are encouraged to purchase tickets for the children served by the Father’s Child Ministry, our designated Rotary Classic Rodeo beneficiary. However, members are welcomed to purchase tickets for any other groups or individuals that may not be able to afford the event.
  • Remember to turn in your ticket proceeds or unsold tickets by Feb. 9.
  • The rodeo committee chaired by Loren Zimmerman is looking for more than a few good volunteers.  Be sure to sign up.

MEMBER ORIENTATION

New members who have not completed their orientation will meet at Harvey’s for lunch on January 31 at 11:30 a.m.

POLIO ERADICATON

Past-District Governor Stu Vance, serving as current district polio eradication committee chair, presented a Rotary International video report on the worldwide program. Our board has accepted the call to contribute $1,000 per year for the next 3 years to the RI effort to meet the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s $100 million challenge grant. Past-President Mikell Davis suggested that the Club report the eradication effort to our community and offer others the opportunity to contribute to it.

A POSITIVE OUTLOOK IN A BLEAK ECONOMY

Blake Wilson, Mississippi Economic Council president,  opened his remarks saying, “How can you be optimistic in these difficult economic times?”

“There’s a lot of political talk of these being the worst times since the Great Depression,” he said. “Actually we’re no where near that era; in fact we are nowhere near the  unemployment levels of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.”

This is the tenth recession since the MEC was founded in 1949 during a recession.  Wilson noted that business leaders realized that tough times require working together meet challenges.

Citing his notable reduction in size (170 lbs in a year), he said, “Like with my weight loss, getting things done in Mississippi is a question of incremental progress consistently.”

“Recovery will come, but we must position Mississippi to field eventual opportunities,” he said.

Citing the delay in the Blue Springs Toyota assembly plant, Wilson said it will come on line and the state will be ready. In our immediate area, he noted Paccar’s imminent opening and Severstal’s expansion.

“We do have a secret weapon in Mississippi — our people,” he said. “We have the ability to pull this great state together because of our business interconnections.”

The world’s largest automotive manufacturing facility built from the ground up is the Nissan plant in Canton.  It  was made possible by ensuring long-term workforce training capabilities and quality design resources such as MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems.

Wilson says the challenge in a down economy is to provide a stimulus and incentives for small businesses and manufacturing.

His primary concern is that Mississippi is one of only 12 states in the U.S. that continues to tax inventory.  He asserted that retail, distribution and manufacturing would be greatly stimulated with the end of this “regressive” tax.

The MEC wants to signal that Mississippi is competitive on the economic development scene by cutting barriers to business. However, the challenge is finding ways to cover the $150,000,000 of revenue that would be displaced for municipal governments and school districts.

Wilson made his case by citing the public warehousing tax set in the 1930s. At that time, the only mass public storage was in cotton warehousing; and, that crop was threatened by the boll weevil. The tax was set to eradicate the pest.

“The mission was accomplished,” he said. “But the tax was not eradicated.”

Until the tax was removed less than five years ago, the state was not able to participate in one of the nation’s biggest economic development movements — the Memphis aerotropolis distribution system.

Early in this decade, one could fly over the airport environs and see acres of warehouses on its north, west and east sides. Yet the southern side, in Mississippi, had no facilities.

Now a trip up I-55 in Desoto County bears witness to a burgeoning storage and distribution business.

“So, number one of the MEC’s legislative priorities this year is to start a move toward eliminating the inventory tax,” said Wilson.

The council’s second priority is changing how the state’s school systems operate. A handful of underperforming school districts is impeding educational progress.

Contrasting two school systems, Wilson said the difference between excellence and dysfunction is exceptional leadership and a community’s focus and commitment to education. The Leland system is a level-5 operation while the  Hazlehurst system is “dreadful.”

The Children First Act is intended to give the State Superintendent of Education more authority to take over  low-performance districts.

The MEC’s third priority is to change the retirement system to encourage teachers in “heavily challenged subject areas” to stay or to re-enter the system. One move is to return the retirement age for newly hired teachers to 30 years. This would not affect existing teachers, but would have to make starting salaries more attractive.

Noting that two-thirds of the Fortune 500 firms are incorporated in his home state of Delaware, Wilson explained the fourth MEC priority — business courts and franchise tax breaks.

Business courts will be piloted in 3 Mississippi counties this year under a plan developed by Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman.

IN MEMORIAM

Starkville and the state of Mississippi lost a strong public servant on Jan. 10. Dr. Fred McCrory, retired state veterinarian and MSU veterinary medicine professor, embodied the Rotary creed of “Service Above Self.” Not only did he serve as our 1967-68 president, he also served as the Brandon Club’s president.

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