Calling on the Coast’s best to help create jobs and boost our economy

Gulf Coast Business Council Board President John Hairston had some sobering news for Coast leaders: We’re flat not growing.

Hairston, president and CEO of Hancock Holding, and the Council presented a raft of data to back up that assessment, and a plan to end the economic malaise on the Mississippi Coast.

The cause is fairly simple: The Coast has yet to recover from the double whammy of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster.

“We’re carrying two concrete bags around our legs trying to run the hurdles,” Hairston said. “The answer isn’t to lower the hurdle. The answer is to have more people running.”

And so the Council wants to draw the best in the business together to publicly hash out “how we execute plans that return us to what was a very prosperous economy prior to Katrina.”

“And don’t stop there,” Hairston said. “Let’s realize our maximum potential.”

We urge the Coast to answer the Council’s call.

Early results are encouraging. More than 450 people showed up for the meeting Tuesday at the IP Casino Resort and Spa to listen to the numbers and the call to action. And it wasn’t just business people. There were people from schools and social services as well.

The Coast has a lot going for it. The tourism economy is healthy. Its schools are performing well. And infrastructure, from buildings to roads to water and sewer, is practically brand new.

“The next chore is to make sure we leverage all those assets to create employment,” Hairston said.

Jobs are the one thing that’s missing. A study by the Trent Lott National Center at the University of Southern Mississippi found there are about 8 percent fewer jobs on the Coast now compared to the pre-Katrina days where the economy was taking off.

We agree with Hairston and the Council that it will take the Coast working together. Anything that helps one community will eventually help the whole Coast.

The Coast has a regional tourism council, for example, which has paid off. “The tourism numbers are the brightest spot we have,” Hairston said, “because we have Coastwide focus on them.”

He envisions the same kind of open-minded forum to discuss employment issues.

The first test will be if such a forum can find a way to spend the BP windfall to measurably boost the economy and create good paying jobs.

We, like Hairston and the Council, favor getting that money out of the hands of the Legislature and into the hands of a transparently operating group on the Coast.

We know job growth and economic revival won’t come overnight and we’ll help the Council keep the focus on creating jobs for the next decade, and the next and the next.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.