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Jackson County's people are its greatest asset, leaders say

PASCAGOULA - Ask a roomful of elected officials and business leaders what is the best asset Jackson County has to offer potential employers, and they respond almost in unison.

“Its people.”

That’s the response Pascagoula Mayor Jim Blevins got Aug. 1 during a business roundtable with members of Leadership Jackson County.

Blevins listed blue collar, white collar, high-tech workers and young professionals. “We have a very talented, hard-working group of people. That’s what we put forward that draws business.”

Of course Jackson County has other amenities - each of its cities have waterfront property and boasts an excellent quality of life, good education systems and proximity to transportation like railroads and I-10.

Gautier Councilwoman Mary Martin may have summed it up best. “We are a little above the rest of the state,” she said referencing physical attributes like access to water. But, she added that people want to come to Jackson County “because we’re friendly. We like people.”

Businessman Jerry St. Pe encouraged members of the Leadership class to volunteer and get involved in the community. “Volunteer to serve when you’re asked, then exercise leadership skills you are learning.”

State Rep. Manly Barton, R-Moss Point, talked about progress made during this session, including new businesses coming to the state and education measures approved by the Legislature.

But, he got a little push back on education measures from superintendents Bonita Coleman-Potter of Ocean Springs and Dr. Maggie Griffin of Moss Point.

They talked specifically about third grade reading gate, which will keep students in third grade if they don’t read at the required proficiency level. While both superintendents agreed it was a good start, Coleman-Potter said, “Third grade is too late.”

She advocated for mandated, state-funded pre-kindergarten, and said we need to make an investment in the quality of teachers who stand in front of the classroom.

“We continue to patch what we have,” Griffin said. She said the school district is “part of our economic development.”

County supervisor Melton Harris agreed. “Education is vital to economic development. If we don’t shore that up, everything else will collapse.”