Slimantics: More Walkers, less tires

July 25, 2019 10:44:02 AM

Slim Smith - ssmith@cdispatch.com

 

If you ask me, what this state needs is more Hagan Walkers and fewer state politicians throwing money around like beads at a Mardi Gras parade. 

 

Walker, a Columbus native and Mississippi State graduate, is a pretty good example of what's happening in our state. 

 

As Walker approached graduating in the fall of 2015, he was one of the thousands of young Mississippians who seemed poised to leave the state for the kind of job opportunities that just don't exist here. After interning at Tesla in California, the electrical engineering major had an offer for a job at Tesla in his hand as soon as he picked up his diploma. 

 

Instead, he stuck around Mississippi, working on a project that originated as a class assignment for a friend. The idea was so intriguing, Walker and that friend, Kaylie Mitchell, decided they could turn it into a business that would become known as Glo, a liquid activated lighted "ice cube" that would alert bartenders that the customer needed a refill. 

 

It's been almost four years and Walker, now the sole proprietor, is building a business that continues to grow and evolve. 

 

His latest derivation on the original cube is bathtub toys for children called Glo Pals, which are now in 1,200 stores in the U.S. and Canada. 

 

"It's kind of funny," Walker said. "The Glo Pals are outselling the cubes. It's the same product, just geared toward a different demographic. We've taken that and run with it and we're working on a new toy that will be out in September." 

 

Studies show that the average start-up business takes five years to turn a profit. 

 

Walker is ahead of that pace. 

 

"This will be our third year of making a profit," Walker said. "It's still difficult, but we're in the black. Hopefully, we'll continue to grow." 

 

Today, Walker operates from his own building and has 15 employees. 

 

He's done that without a dime from the state, too, which illustrates the importance of home-grown entrepreneurs to our state. 

 

It's not as though Walker was entirely without support. He launched the business from the Thad Cochran Research Center and MSU before moving into The Partnership building. Those temporary homes helped him cut expenses as he developed his business. 

 

Compare that to what our politicians' approach to economic development has been. 

 

In 2016, roughly the same time Walker was taking the first tentative steps in building his business, the state of Mississippi provided German tire manufacturer Continental a $600 million package of tax cuts, deferments and other incentives to build a plant near Jackson that would produce 2,500 jobs. 

 

If you don't have a calculator handy, I've done the math: It comes out to $240,000 in much-needed tax revenue for every job created. 

 

Nobody should argue that the state should not encourage big-scale economic development. But the price paid by the taxpayers of our state, who must contend with under-funded schools and lousy infrastructure, has gone from ridiculous to absurd. 

 

And for all the jobs those big companies create, they are a fraction of the numbers of jobs created by Mississippi-based businesses that do not have to be bribed by tax dollars to create jobs and grow our economy. 

 

It's time our state leaders invested in the people of Mississippi - bright, motivated, talented young entrepreneurs like Hagan Walker - rather than strangers who approach with their hands out. 

 

Ultimately, that's a far, far better return on our investment. 

 

An earlier version of this this column contained inaccurate numbers concerning the size of the incentives and the dollar amount per job offered by the state.

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is ssmith@cdispatch.com.