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Bracing for the winter

By Staff
Oct. 21, 2001
My friend Phil Hardwick of Mississippi Valley Gas Company issued a reminder the other day that things have changed a lot from a year ago.
Back then, the company was sending notices to customers alerting them to the possibility of higher bills in the coming winter. The possibility became a harsh reality, as anyone who uses natural gas to heat their homes and water can tell you.
He said the events of Sept. 11 "do not appear to have had the effect of causing price increases in natural gas. It even appears that demand from the manufacturing sector is lower than it might have been, causing prices to remain low."
Low prices are good for consumers, but not necessarily good for the company.
Another gift from Phil: If you want to see the U.S. Department of Energy's forecast for yourself, click on http://www.eia.doe.gov/steo/.
The costs
of doing business
Frustrated with the escalating costs of doing business associated with obscene jury verdicts and rising liability insurance costs, the National Federation of Independent Business swept across Mississippi last week.
The head of the Mississippi chapter, Ron Aldridge of Jackson, made a stop at Luigi's in Meridian with state Sen. Videt Carmichael as a guest and signed people up to fight for civil justice reform.
A recent survey of Mississippi business leaders taken for the Center for Policy Research and Planning asked the question, "Have large punitive damage awards hurt Mississippi's ability to attract business?"
Fifty-seven percent said yes, 20 percent said no, and 23 percent had no opinion.
Well, here's an opinion. Mississippi is gaining a well-deserved reputation as a lawsuit mecca. Trial lawyers are seeking out jurisdictions Jefferson County seems to be the favorite where huge jury verdicts are casting a cloud on the state's ability to attract new business.
Businesses can be drawn into a lawsuit because they happen to own the property where some offense occurred, even though they had nothing to do with the offense. These kinds of cases are expensive to defend and counterproductive to the cause of economic development.
At the very least the Legislature should enact limits on non-economic and punitive damages, says Aldridge, an attorney. Otherwise, there is no way a business can calculate risk for insurance purposes.
The situation will only change when businesspeople rise up and tell their legislators, "enough is enough." Trial lawyers have a lot of money to spend on judicial campaigns and to lobby their colleagues in the Legislature to retain favored treatment. Small businesses have a lot less money to spend and a lot more at stake.
Political note
Mississippi Republican chairman Jim Herring of Canton huddled for about an hour on Thursday with Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith. Herring also visited The Meridian Star and his comments to the newspaper's editorial board on a variety of issues will appear in tomorrow's paper.
As for what was said in his conversation with Smith, no one's talking. Some behind the scenes political operatives have speculated that Smith may be considering a race for governor or lieutenant governor. But who knows.
Despite a growing majority of African-Americans of voting age, (52 percent, according to Census 2000), Meridian is a traditional Republican stronghold where Smith has been elected mayor three times.
As state GOP chairman, Herring is making the rounds, talking up the conservative Republican point of view in support of the war against terrorism, sounding a cautionary note on congressional redistricting and rallying potential candidates for statewide elections in 2003.
Customer service
And, finally, a bit of counsel for the business community, including newspapers, courtesy of an article in a publication called "First-Rate Customer Service." Here are the five worst things to say to a customer:
1. It's not our policy
2. It's not my department
3. My computer's down
4. I wasn't here that day
5. I'm new here.
If you ever hear those words from someone in this newsroom, call me.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at bynum@themeridianstar.com.

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