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Empower Mississippi hosts second annual...

Empower Mississippi hosts second annual Unleash Mississippi

By: Anne Summerhays - June 3, 2022

The event provided a solutions-centered discussion among state leaders and policy experts on the biggest challenges in Mississippi.

On Thursday, Empower Mississippi hosted the second annual Unleash Mississippi forum that provided a solutions-centered discussion among state leaders and policy experts on the biggest challenges in Mississippi.

Panels centered around topics such as education, workforce development, public safety, poverty, and a reflection on the 2022 Mississippi Legislative session.

The fist discussion was titled, “Making Mississippi Job-Ready,” and featured Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves (R).

Governor Reeves and Grant Callen, Founder & CEO of Empower Mississippi, talked about “what comes next for the kids, which is work.”

“You said it in your interview a little while ago, you say it all the time. You want to make Mississippi the most job-friendly state in the nation. Why does meaningful work matter so much to our people?” Callen asked.

“Work is essential… giving kids and young adults an opportunity to provide for themselves and provide for their families is essential to having an economy that works, but also having the kind of quality of life that we want here in our state,” Reeves responded.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for April 2022 at 4.1% decreased one-tenth of a percentage point over the month to a new historic low. When compared to one year ago, the rate was 2.1 percentage points lower than the 6.2% reported for April 2021.

“The easier we make it for people to enter the workforce, the better,” Reeves said at the Empower Mississippi event.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi was among several states that experienced lower unemployment rates in April 2022.

Governor Reeves previously told Y’all Politics that the state’s economy is on fire, and the state is continuing to see huge new investments and jobs being created in the state.

“In the past, people had to search for jobs. Today in Mississippi, jobs have to search for people. That’s a good problem to have,” Reeves said. “I’m confident that our commonsense policies including historic tax cuts and regulatory reduction efforts will continue to drive growth. We also ended federal unemployment benefits that made it harder for businesses to hire. We’re making Mississippi the easiest state to work and run a business and it’s paying off.”

The next panel of the event was titled, “Preparing Our Students for Tomorrow:
How to Foster Innovation in the Classroom.” Panelists included:

  • Dr. Lee Childress – Superintendent, Corinth Public School District
  • Scott Waller – President & CEO, Mississippi Economic Council
  • Dr. Donna Akers – Founder and Head of School, Ivy Greene Academy
  • Elyse Marcellino – Director of Embark, Empower Mississippi

Waller said that if the state does not have a strong education system that is preparing students to move into the workforce and be successful, then we are not going to ever be able to get the point we need.

The next panel featured discussion on protecting public safety and had four panelists:

  • Alesha Judkins – State Director,
  • Scott Peyton – State Director, Right On Crime
  • Bryan Bailey – Rankin County Sheriff
  • Forest Thigpen – Senior Advisor, Empower Mississippi

Bailey spoke about the costs of prisoners and how ensuring offenders do not return to jail will save taxpayers money.

Peyton told the forum about how re-entry provides hope for some that have been at the lowest point in their lives. 

“The Path to Prosperity: Overcoming Poverty,” was the third panel of the event in which Russ Latino, President of Empower Mississippi, participated in a discussion with:

  • Randy Hicks – President & CEO, Georgia Center for Opportunity
  • Diann Payne – Jackson County Civic Action Committee

Latino talked about the data that shows the major problem of fatherlessness in Mississippi.

Empower Mississippi closed their panels at Unleash Mississippi with a discussion with Speaker Philip Gunn and State Senator Briggs Hopson. Speaker Gunn and Senator Hopson discussed legislative wins during the 2022 Mississippi Legislative session. 

The 2022 Mississippi Legislative session has been called historic due to the tremendous legislative accomplishments, such as: cutting the state’s income tax, significantly raising teacher pay, allocating $1.5 billion in ARPA funds, establishing a Medical Marijuana program, and more.

About the Author(s)
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Anne Summerhays

Anne Summerhays is a recent graduate of Millsaps College where she majored in Political Science, with minors in Sociology and American Studies. In 2021, she joined Y’all Politics as a Capitol Correspondent. Prior to making that move, she interned for a congressional office in Washington, D.C. and a multi-state government relations and public affairs firm in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Millsaps, Summerhays received a Legislative Fellowship with the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi where she worked with an active member of the Mississippi Legislature for the length of session. She has quickly established trust in the Capitol as a fair, honest, and hardworking young reporter. Her background in political science helps her cut through the noise to find and explain the truth. Email Anne: