Sustainable economic development cannot be driven sufficiently by the government picking winners and losers. True economic development is grounded in a skilled population that can generate real monetary value through smart, productive work.
Thankfully, many Mississippi leaders have an applied understanding of the real value of education to encourage sustainable economic growth. For example, in order to encourage lasting economic development in growing technical sectors, the Mississippi Economic Council (MEC) has established the Mississippi Scholars Tech Master Program for high school students.
The program combines a practical emphasis on career education and community service with an academic focus on mathematics and science. This reflects a well-directed market element in education that helps prepare individual students to succeed and provide for themselves.
The program has seen great success, with participants from all 82 counties. According to MEC Senior Vice President for Foundations, Vickie Powell, there have been over 68,000 graduates since its founding.
This success has been largely made possible through MEC’s partnerships with local school districts. These partnerships give students the chance to pursue unique opportunities, with many districts even providing scholarships for the participants. In a recent interview with the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, MEC president Scott Waller noted: “The program gives students the opportunity to gain skills that will fill the jobs that are currently available. We felt like this was important to meet the needs of the workforce.”
On the other hand, economic development pursued through government interference in the free market creates an economic atmosphere that only has the limited scope of government priorities. An economic development agenda based on redistributing taxpayer dollars does not have long-term sustainability.
This coincides with several studies that have noted the anemic effects of redistributive economic development policies. In one such study published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, the researchers noted that “the standard justifications given for incentive policy by state and local officials, politicians, and many academics are, at best, poorly supported by the evidence.”
Economic development policies for technology and other sectors must be driven by a perspective that prioritizes long-term success over short-term results. Rather than focusing on government priorities and corporate welfare, economic development should have a free-market driven focus grounded in the development of individual skills and productivity. This is the American way, and it carries with it the paradigm for greater success, innovation, and growth in the tech sector. Hats off to MEC for helping Mississippi students follow this model.