Gov. Phil Bryant's speech at the Neshoba County Fair outlined Mississippi's path forward, touting the importance of job creation, education reform and tackling teen pregnancy.
Bryant built upon his inaugural address, saying his administration's no. 1 duty is making sure that every Mississippian who wants a job has one. He said Mississippi has made strides in creating a positive business climate that will lead to increased economic investment and job creation. Key measures of his Mississippi Works agenda, passed during the 2012 legislative session, are building economic momentum.
"In the seven months since I've been governor, I've been able to enjoy the best part of my job -- announcing new jobs for Mississippians," Bryant said. "Seventeen companies have either announced a new location in Mississippi or expanded their existing presence to more than 1,800 new jobs plus 400 existing jobs that have been retained.
"Now with the framework of things like the Health Care Industry Zone Act, offsets for the inventory tax and easing of regulations on small businesses, you will see even more companies looking to Mississippi because it works."
Mississippi is attracting more jobs while seeing a decreasing unemployment rate, but he wants to see the progress continue, he said.
"I want to see unemployment at 7.5 percent by 2015," Bryant said. "We have the best workforce in the world, and we are proving it. We are going to keep attracting new jobs, and we are going to keep investing in workforce training and development. I won't move an inch from the belief that we have the best workers not only in America but in the world."
Bryant also discussed the importance of education to Mississippi, calling for a ten percent reduction in the dropout rate by 2017.
"One of the biggest obstacles some of our children are facing is difficulty reading," Bryant said. "A child who can't read is a child who is at greater risk of dropping out. With dyslexia screening and therapy measures that we passed this year, our children will get the attention they need early on when reading skills are built."
Bryant also restated an announcement he made last week that he would focus his 2013 legislative agenda on education reform.
"Just last week, I gathered with a group of education experts to issue a report that outlines ways to help improve teacher performance in Mississippi classrooms," he said. "Performance-based compensation is just one component of education reform that I am pursuing.
"We also have to take other serious steps like making certain every child can read at a third grade level before passing on to the fourth grade. Without that gateway, children who struggle get further and further behind."
Bryant said his education agenda would also include moving forward with his dual enrollment-dual credit program, providing alternative credit and training options for potential dropouts. He also said he is furthering efforts to increase the rigor of teacher training programs at Mississippi universities.
"You can also expect that I will continue to push for a strong charter school bill," Bryant added. "Our children deserve every opportunity to succeed."
Bryant also continued to emphasize his commitment to reducing teen pregnancy by 15 percent by 2017 and spoke about the importance of educating teens on the detrimental consequences of having a child before becoming an adult.
Bryant reminded fairgoers that fathers in Mississippi will be expected to pay for the care of their children.
"Just this week, I've received a plan from the Department of Human Services to increase child support collections and also increase prosecution of delinquencies. If you father a child in Mississippi, I will no longer be responsible for that child. You will."
Bryant also outlined his ideas for inspiring Mississippians to healthier lifestyles, capitalizing on Mississippi's energy economy and increasing accountability and efficiency in government through performance based budgeting practices.
He concluded by saying that while there are many things Mississippi must do on its path forward, there are some things the state must not do.
"We cannot afford a Medicaid expansion that would cost us billions and result in draconian cuts to essential government services like education; we cannot yield to an overbearing federal government that tells us it is improper to ask voters for ID; and we cannot prohibit law enforcement from determining if a person is in our state illegally.
"We certainly cannot do as our president and tell our business men and women "You didn't build that', and we cannot rest until we elect Mitt Romney as the next president of the United States."