CHARLIE MITCHELL: Secrecy supposed to benefit people, not shield officials

CHARLIE MITCHELL

In “Lonesome Dove,” the cowboys crest a hill and see a gentle valley with ample timber, grazing and water. “This will do,” is how they end their months-long cattle drive. They had found a place to settle down, seek prosperity.

In 2015, they’d need to know more – a lot more.

We live in a time when copious research precedes any decision by any national company on where to launch an enterprise of any type.

Before a “go” decision is made, the executives know the average income of all residents in a defined area. They know their shopping habits, where they spend their money.

They know about the employment pool, the typical education, the dominant type of work and political leanings. They look at trend lines on population growth or loss.

They know the local laws, building codes, zoning and tax provisions and they have traffic counts on all area roads. They pore over flood maps and weather histories. They know how many “slip and fall” lawsuits have been filed by area shoppers and the amounts of settlements or jury verdicts.

They do so much research and apply their findings to such sophisticated grids they can predict within a small range what their cash flow will be day-to-day and month-to-month if they build on a specific site.

Super stores, such as Walmart, and food franchises, such as McDonald’s must have this data. There are 11,000 Walmarts in 28 countries – and a new one opens almost every day. There are 35,000 McDonald’s and 8,000 Chevron and Texaco gas stations. They don’t choose sites based on hunches.

On the other hand is the reality that most commerce still takes place in local companies, and, as politicians often say, “small business is the backbone of America.” Few people think of the Mississippi secretary of state’s office at all, much less as a resource for entrepreneurial thinkers.

Last week, Mississippi’s Delbert Hosemann debuted public access to a gargantuan online data set that has the potential to bring about more growth than all the tax breaks and gifts to business and industry today’s Mississippi lawmakers fall all over themselves to provide. Hosemann decided to give it the friendly name of “Y’all Business” and it can be found at yallbusiness.sos.ms.gov/# or through the secretary of state main website.

It will go a long way toward providing big businesses the volumes of data they seek, but more importantly it’s free and accessible to anyone thinking about starting or expanding a business.

One window gives overall data, snapshots of general information about the state and its rankings. A second window provides statistical data about every town and county in the state and immediate contact information that businesses need – directors of industrial parks, names of Chamber of Commerce directors and permit authorities.

It’s the third window where entrepreneurs can dive in. Currently, 9.3 percent of McComb market area residents buy dietary weight loss supplements. The market potential index is 123 percent. With the national norm being 100, the translation is that demand is higher than average for these products in McComb.

“Voluminous” doesn’t even begin to describe the consumer and other information Hosemann has made available at no charge to anyone with an Internet connection.

It’s election season, so it’s natural that office-seekers are cherry-picking data that shows Mississippi in the most favorable light. The truth, however, is the state’s economy and its job outlook are lagging.

Hosemann clearly believes commerce here can grow, so this tool has been provided. It empowers local folks to do the same type of research that retail giants perform and goes a long way toward leveling the playing field in that regard.

Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at cmitchell43@yahoo.com.

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