Submitted by Ambassador John N. Palmer

“I plead with our state leaders to take advantage of the Digital Revolution. Look at where we are having success and learn from it.”

Do you believe Mississippi can excel? Seriously, it’s a real question.

You can either join the nay-sayers or be part of the solution.

We know there are individual Mississippians who have had legendary success. Elvis. B.B. King. Jimmie Rodgers. William Faulkner. Eudora Welty. Archie Manning. Leontyne Price. Ralph Boston. Walter Payton. James Earl Jones. Morgan Freeman. Fred Smith and many more.

In the 1990’s, Jackson was booming as a telecommunications and technology hub. WorldCom became the fastest growing telecom firm in the world and was headquartered in downtown Jackson and later Clinton. SkyTel, a company I headed, was an innovator – developing what would become text messaging. Mississippi was loaded with telecom and tech talent and risk-takers. The Creekmore brothers, Billy Mounger, Wirt Yerger III and many others continue to operate successful Mississippi ventures that benefitted from those heady days of the 90’s.

I am 87 years old and like to spend more time fly fishing these days than most anything else, but I know an opportunity when I see it. And I want to see Mississippi flourish!

The digital revolution has already far surpassed the Industrial Revolution in terms of economic development. Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Dell, Facebook, Intel and many smaller tech innovators are driving the global economy. They are driving transformational changes across all business sectors. Their products appear ubiquitous. Their impact is immeasurable.

Mississippi needs an aggressive plan to play catch-up on what I feel we have missed in this tremendous wave of the Digital Revolution. It’s not too late!

Companies such as Amazon have developed plans to train millions of people to work in their industry. Recently, they committed $700 million to teaching new skills to 100,000 of their own workers in the United States. Mississippi can work with Amazon and others to help bring Mississippi forward with this revolution.

Good things are already happening in small pockets of Mississippi. Water Valley, Corinth and Vicksburg are encouraging examples.

The Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley is an outstanding example. It recently renovated a large textile manufacturing building in town and is co-locating there with Northwest Community College to create Mississippi’s first “Rural Tech Hub,” providing rural high school graduates opportunities to train in software development and gain high-wage employment in the tech industry. CSpire, Federal Express and others are helping fund this.

As a native Corinthian, I am proud of the innovation and leadership from the Corinth Public School District Center for Innovation.

The Corinth School District was Mississippi’s first District of Innovation. In fact, the Corinth district and Superintendent Dr. Lee Childress were major drivers in contemplation and passage of the district of innovation legislation in Jackson. In addition, Corinth is starting construction on its new 40,000 square foot Center for Innovation that will have a mix of traditional career tech training as well as a heavy emphasis in technology and coding training.

Meanwhile, just down the road from my favorite fishing hole, the Vicksburg/Warren County School District serves the southern tip of the MS Delta – one of the most impoverished regions in the country. Yet, Vicksburg is on the move.

Vicksburg has more Ph. D’s per capita than any other city in America. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and ERDC, the Army’s engineering research center, help make Vicksburg truly a “city of engineers.” And local leaders such as George Flaggs, Jeff Holland, Briggs Hopson and Chad Shealy are making a difference. The local school district places a heavy emphasis on STEM and there are programs linked to ERDC for coding and Entergy for preparing students to work at their nuclear plant.

We need to hold our schools to extremely high standards. Give a child low expectations, and they will meet them every time. Our schools can become a great sense of pride for their local people, but only if we push an aggressive plan to change our trajectory.

Not only do our children need higher expectations, but Mississippi needs higher expectations.

I plead with our state leaders to take advantage of the Digital Revolution. Look at where we are having success and learn from it. A report by Accenture PLC found that “33 million Americans could double their income, earning a median salary of $35 an hour by gaining new training in what the authors describe as opportunity jobs.”

And let me add an important footnote to our nation’s leaders. There is over-reaching and highly regulatory antitrust legislation in Congress that could undermine the very thing driving this Digital Revolution for Americans. Congress must understand America is engaged in a global, high-stakes struggle with China to see who will lead the world in technology. The last thing we need is legislation that would hurt American companies and aid China’s goal of technological dominance.

Let’s follow the lead of greats such as Faulkner, Freeman and Payton. Mississippi can do better with the right plan to ride the huge wave of the Digital Revolution.

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Submitted by John N. Palmer. He is the former U.S. Ambassador to Portugal, telecom executive and resides near Edwards, Mississippi.