Throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries Mississippi ranked at or near the bottom of most development criteria in the United States. As recently as 2010 Census Bureau data, for example, Mississippi ranked lowest in the country in median family income and highest in percentage of families in poverty. These dismal rankings have persisted despite the state’s ongoing initiatives and remarkable creativity in the field of economic development. Indeed, Mississippi has stood at the forefront of many of the most significant innovations in US economic development over the past century.
Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which included several Northeast Mississippi counties, in 1933. The TVA offered a pioneering model for comprehensive regional development, inspiring similar projects elsewhere in the United States and around the world. Two of the most prominent subsequent US federal regional development initiatives also included large areas of Mississippi: the Appalachian Regional Commission (1963) in the Northeast and the Delta Regional Authority (2000) in the northwest Delta and southwestern regions of the state.
As Congress was creating the TVA, the State of Mississippi was also pioneering a very different approach to economic development. The 1936 Balance Agriculture with Industry (BAWI) program initiated the use of publicly funded state incentives—such as industrial buildings and training programs—to attract private industrial investment. These techniques continue in Mississippi and in every other state despite criticism for the rapidly escalating costs of such programs and occasional disappointment with resulting jobs and other social benefits.
National enthusiasm for free enterprise in the 1980s resulted in a second wave of economic development initiatives that sought other means of stimulating private sector investment and job creation. The hallmark of this second wave was the enterprise zone, which offered special tax and other concessions to companies investing in targeted economically lagging regions. After considerable delay, the North Delta Mississippi Rural Enterprise Community (1994) became one of the country’s first such federally designated zones.
The third wave of economic development in the 1990s emphasized network building among public and private entities and the creation of industrial clusters. An ideal industrial cluster is a dynamic mixture of regional industries, suppliers, consumers, technology, and trained workers. The dream of building thriving industrial clusters in Mississippi provided further justification for massive publicly funded incentives to attract automotive industries such as Nissan and Toyota. It remains to be seen whether such investments will result in the self-perpetuating industrial growth predicted by the cluster model as well as whether recent emphasis on technology- and cluster-based development in Mississippi will have a significant economic or social impact on the state’s large population in poverty.
- Appalachian Regional Commission website, www.arc.gov
- T. K. Bradshaw and E. J. Blakely, Economic Development Quarterly (February 1999)
- James C. Cobb, Selling the South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development, 1936–1990 (1993);
- Delta Regional Authority website, www.dra.gov
- M. E. Porter, Economic Development Quarterly (February 2000)
- Tennessee Valley Authority website, www.tva.gov