Part two of a workforce study by the Memphis Regional Economic Development Council finds that the mid-south (the region where Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas meet) can't compete because its workforce lacks skills and education. The meeting notes show that education levels and household earnings in the Greater Memphis area are below national averages, and the size of the workforce is declining, especially among 20-34 year-olds. Despite the fact that the region has a "hidden labor supply" of some 532,090 unemployed and under-employed workers who demand lower wages than the national average, employers who were surveyed report difficulties recruiting from the local workforce, especially for "knowledge-based" jobs. Employers say that while the region's workers have basic skills and a good work ethic, low levels of high school and four-year college degree attainment are a problem, leading them to recruit managers and professionals from outside the region.
Last year, part one of this study described the local labor force as "unskilled, under-educated, unmotivated," and found a "prevailing 'no-hope' attitude" according to media reports.
Some of the causal factors seem obvious. According to the National Educational Association, Tennesee, Arkansas and Mississippi rank 44, 46 and 47, respectively, in per-student K-12 expenditures. Or we could look to Richard Florida's compelling argument in The Rise of the Creative Class that tolerant cities that value a diverse population and free thinking attract the kinds of knowledge-based businesses Memphis seeks.
I tried to find data on per capita spending on workforce development in these states so I could compare them to other states known for their knowledge-based economy, but I didn't have a lot of luck. If any readers have suggestions for data sources, I'd welcome them.