By STEVEN NALLEY
The Starkville Rotary Club hosted a special presentation from Blueprint Mississippi at the Hunter Henry Center for its meeting Monday.
Blueprint Mississippi is a statewide strategic initiative to increase Mississippiâ€™s economic and educational opportunities, patterned after an initiative with the same name and focus which took place in 2004. Launched in January 2011, it is a public-private partnership between the Mississippi Economic Council, Momentum Mississippi and the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development.
On Oct. 13, Blueprint Mississippi unveiled a set of nine goals for leaders to advance the stateâ€™s economic welfare. Now, as in early 2011, Blueprint Mississippi leaders are on tour to give leaders in Mississippi population centers the chance to rank the goals in order of priority.
The goals include improved coordination among economic leaders, support of the stateâ€™s creative economy, cultivating racial reconciliation, promoting health care as an economic driver and building up the stateâ€™s economy, financial capital, education, workforce, health care and infrastructure.
When the time came to vote, increasing educational achievement took the lead with 24 percent of the vote, while strengthening and expanding the economy came in second with 15 percent. Cultivating a more robust workforce was a close third with 14 percent, and developing Mississippiâ€™s creative economy placed fourth with 11 percent.
Mississippi Economic Council president and CEO Blake Wilson gave todayâ€™s presentation and said he was not surprised to see education top the list in the hometown of Mississippi State University. He said the other three leading categories were not surprises either because they all intertwine together.
Wilson said Blueprint Mississippi officials will figure votes from Starkville and other cities into a final report presented Jan. 5. The document, he said, will mark the real beginning for Blueprint Mississippi.
â€śThis thing will be an evergreen document,â€ť Wilson said. â€śWe hope youâ€™ll all continue to participate in keeping Mississippi moving forward.â€ť
Before holding the vote, Wilson incorporated video comments from several state leaders into his presentation. Claiborne Barksdale, president and CEO of the Barksdale Reading Institute, discussed ideas for improving education.
Barksdale said his institute is working with the state education department to increase the requirements for obtaining education degrees and tenure. The institute also wants to pursue a merit-based approach to teacher compensation and increase the number of Mississippians with bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s degrees.
â€śWe are going to ask the legislature for a $12.5 million appropriation annually to increase the number of Teach For America and Mississippi Teacher Corps members in the state,â€ť Barksdale said. â€śIf we can attain this, we will have around 1,100 such teachers in the state who would be strategically placed in high-needs schools.â€ť
Wilson said Mississippi is no longer last in the country in education, but it is still near the bottom will take a long-term effort to change this. Mississippi proved it can fix problems over the long term, he said, when state leaders developed a 20-year plan in 1987 to bring a four-lane highway within 30 miles of every Mississippian.
â€śThey did it nine miles of highway at a time,â€ť Wilson said. â€śIf you remember driving from Jackson up to Mississippi State â€” even in the time Iâ€™ve been here, and Iâ€™ve been here 14 years â€“ that was a scary ride. Look at what it is today, but think about how slowly it happened. Eventually, this network came together, and we moved from dead last in the nation to (becoming) number one in the Midsouth.â€ť