Check AP for an interview with Maria Haley, the new chief of Arkansas Economic Development, who carefully allows that some parts of the state might have workforce problems.

I still don’t believe it was air quality that caused Toyota to choose Mississippi for a new assembly plant and to reject an expansion of its Hino plant. I still believe Toyota’s remark that it found the Tupelo area best suited to the Toyota “way” was  freighted with deeper meaning, most likely related to educational qualifications of workers. I  think somebody needs to take the plunge and consider demographic differences between Tupelo and the Arkansas Delta. Poverty is a key factor in lagging educational attainment, but it’s a third-rail issue for corporate executives and state officials reluctant to offend because it’s unavoidably tinged with race. Let’s take a look and see if concerns on this front are warranted or not. Bill Walker, now chief of Work Force Education, I’d like to hear from you on this issue, too, given some of your long-ago questions on a related topic.

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You can have the best rail, highway and river service in the world — and even offer a chest full of corporate welfare — but if a significant number of workers can’t master the instructional manuals you’re not likely to be a prime contender for industrial development.

UPDATE: For whatever it might be worth, some Census data in a variety of categories on the three counties in Mississippi that formed an alliance to seek the Toyota plant; three contiguous counties around Marion, Ark.; and Shelby County, Tenn., across the river from Marion.

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MISSISSIPPI

County        % black   Median Income   % poverty  % H.S. grad   % Bach.deg.

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Lee              25.8        $36,997               14.1            74.7               18.1

Pontotoc      14.6          33,810               13.2             66.7              11.4

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Union           15.1          33,856               12.8             68.5              13.2

ARKANSAS

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Crittenden    49.4          30,461              22.5                69.2              12.8

Cross           23.4          30,287              19.6                68.3                9.9

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St. Francis    50.5          25,502              25.2                65.1                9.6 

TENNESSEE

Shelby          51.3          39,099              16.6                 80.8              25.3

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