State economist: Mississippi has had "strongest growth since 1999"

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The sixth annual Economic Outlook Symposium was held Thursday at the University of Southern Mississippi's Thad Cochran Center.

State and local economists and business leaders spoke to the crowd on economic trends and forecasts for the state of Mississippi and this region in 2014.

"I think when you look at the national economy there's a lot of positive things taking place that I think puts us on firm footing going forward," said state economist Dr. Darrin Webb. "We actually had the strongest growth we've seen since 1999 in Mississippi."

Governor Phil Bryant said in this week's State of the State address that the unemployment rate has gone from 9.4 percent when he took office to 8.3 percent today. While that is still higher than the national average of 6.6 percent, Hattiesburg's unemployment comes in even lower at 6.2 percent. These decreasing percentages are a good thing, but Webb said the numbers can be misleading.

"A lot of the jobs that we've added are part time jobs," explained Webb. "A lot of the jobs we added were low paying jobs, so our income growth is not quite as good. But we do think that is improving, and we think that will improve going forward."

Jones County economic development director Mitch Stennett said it is the local industries that lead the way here at home for our regional economy.

"Our employers including GE Aviation and Howard Industries and Sanderson Farms and a recent announcement last year with Wayne Farms adding jobs, all of those are looking for people who want to work," said Stennett. "We had a pretty good year last year in 2013, coming off of that with more housing starts nationwide we see the economy in Jones County picking up."

Webb also pointed out that Mississippi has seen a 1.8 percent growth in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and that is expected to pick up to 2.4 percent this year.

Wednesday's symposium was sponsored by The First Bank of Hattiesburg and hosted by the Southern Miss College of Business and the Trent Lott National Center.

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