/Business community concerned with workforce

Business community concerned with workforce

“… “The Mississippi tax environment wasn’t high profile or even discussed significantly as an issue of priority,” said the Mississippi Economic Council at Capitol. The report was based on hundreds of surveys and dozens of meetings with business leaders from the state. “… One businessman brought up the topic at one meeting and was dismissed as a distraction problem, but not a hindrance for most businesses. The report, “Securing Mississippi’s Future,” was released by the Mississippi Economic Council on Wednesday. It was based on 51 town-hall meetings with community and business leaders from across the state, and in many sectors, from July to September last year. According to the report, the income tax topic was not even brought up at any of the meetings until August. The report stated that there was a concern that eliminating the income tax could increase other costs and cause financial problems for the state and its residents. The Capitol’s state legislators have been focusing on reducing or eliminating the state income tax. Senate and House Republican leaders have been fighting over competing plans. The House is calling for a major tax overhaul, which would see the elimination of the state’s income tax in about a decade and an increase on sales taxes. The Senate proposes a modest plan that will reduce income taxes by small amounts over four years. READ MORE: The battle for income tax cuts between the Senate and House leaders. This isn’t the first time that business leaders have rejected the legislative income tax reduction push. MEC’s president stated that it wasn’t a top business priority. However, some worry it could have unintended results. Other industry sector representatives expressed concern or opposition to the report at the time. According to the MEC report, the top concerns among state business leaders were “far and away”, including lack of workers and Mississippi’s image. It also stressed the need for better marketing Mississippi and stopping the “brain drain” and other problems caused by the pandemic. The MEC report pointed out that surveys and meetings were held during an increase in COVID-19 cases. This likely contributed to the high ranking of that issue. According to the MEC report, “lack of qualified workers was the number one issue in every community.” “… “The number one issue facing Mississippi’s growth can be summarized easily: There aren’t enough qualified workers for the current jobs, and even those who are willing to enter the workforce don’t have the skills necessary for the task.” Lt. Governor. Delbert Hosemann, House Speaker Philip Gunn and others attended Wednesday’s Capitol press conference, where MEC presented its report and subsequent “Goals to Chart a Bold Course For Mississippi.” Gunn, who said that eliminating the state income tax was his highest priority, didn’t mention it, but stated that lawmakers are focusing on improving workforce development. He stated that he had met last summer with a national “site selection” representative who assists businesses in deciding where to locate. Gunn stated that he said workforce was number one — a skilled, educated, reliable, and trained workforce. Hosemann has been cautiouser about tax cuts, and is reluctant to abolish the income tax like Gunn suggests. He said that “the best workforce development we can have is an educated kid.” Leaders from across the state stated that there is a shortage of skilled graduates in Mississippi and that more collaboration is needed between high schools, businesses, and post-secondary institutions. MEC surveyed a wide range of people and strongly supported financial incentives to keep Mississippi’s college and high school graduates in the state. According to the report, business leaders frequently discussed broadband expansion and improving road and bridge infrastructure. MEC also reported that Medicaid expansion was not a major topic for business leaders, with the exception of those who work in hospitals, medical centers, and nursing homes. The report stated that “there was unanimous agreement” that healthcare is 100% an issue of workforce. READ MORE: Mississippi’s chamber for commerce is mulling Medicaid expansion. Those who supported Medicaid expansion in Mississippi had hoped MEC would join the effort to expand. MEC President Scott Waller stated last year that he expected MEC’s position on Medicaid expansion to be taken and policy recommendations made before the 2022 legislative session, which began in January. Waller stated Wednesday that access to health care remains a problem for the business community. However, MEC’s current focus will be to “work on ways to improve access care with what we have.”