Miller's Mission: Ryan Miller Embracing the Mission of Accelerate Mississippi


Ryan Miller’s view from his office on the 18th floor of the Walter Sillers Building in downtown Jackson is symbolic of his new job as the Executive Director of Accelerate Mississippi - It’s broad and far-reaching, and goes well beyond what he can see from 180 feet up in the air.
Despite that broad scope, he has a specific purpose, but that purpose is far from simple. Miller is tasked with answering a riddle that has puzzled business leaders and politicians in this state for years - How do we increase the number of skilled workers in the state and fill those open jobs?
 
“I really want to make sure that people and communities understand that I’ll listen to what you have to say,” Miller said. “Tell me what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. Tell me where you’ve struggled and where you succeeded. Teach me so that we, as a state office, can be a better teammate to you.
 
“And in some of these cases, they’ve heard what I’ve had to say before. And so, we’ve got a healthy skepticism, I think. I think that there are high expectations and there’s a level of healthy skepticism because they want to believe that what we’re trying to do is going to move the needle. I’m just determined to see that through.”
 
The needle of labor force participation in Mississippi has been riding a declining wave for nearly three decades. In November of 1994, it stood at 63.3 percent. In June of this year, it was 56 percent, and has only moved up 1.4 percent in the last six years.
 
“This was one of those opportunities that was made known to me where I saw the opportunity to really try and help on a larger scale,” he said. “Having worked at the CME (Center for Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi) for almost 13 years, having gotten to work with great manufacturers across the state of Mississippi – big, medium, and small – and also being aware of the realistic challenges that we face as a state as we try and coordinate efforts to help our manufacturing landscape, it was something that was enticing. How can I help? How can I take some of the philosophy that I learned from the CME and put it into this office? It was an exciting opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
 


The needle of labor force participation in Mississippi has been riding a declining wave for nearly three decades. In November of 1994, it stood at 63.3 percent. In June of this year, it was 56 percent, and has only moved up 1.4 percent in the last six years.
 
“This was one of those opportunities that was made known to me where I saw the opportunity to really try and help on a larger scale,” he said. “Having worked at the CME (Center for Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi) for almost 13 years, having gotten to work with great manufacturers across the state of Mississippi – big, medium, and small – and also being aware of the realistic challenges that we face as a state as we try and coordinate efforts to help our manufacturing landscape, it was something that was enticing. How can I help? How can I take some of the philosophy that I learned from the CME and put it into this office? It was an exciting opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
 
But it wasn’t an opportunity he thought he would get after his first interview.
 
“After the first interview phase, well, they’re not calling me back,” Miller recalled with a laugh. “This was a good exercise. I appreciate the opportunity to at least have the conversation.”
 
But he did get a second interview and was hired in April.
 
“I think after that interview it wasn’t that I was ‘hey man, I got this’. I was really just more excited,” he said. “I think I was more emboldened after having that conversation about the things I know we could do. There were some missional things that kind of came out from that process I was excited about.”
 
Patrick Sullivan is the Chairman of the State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB), which is the state agency that oversees Accelerate MS. He said Miller’s vision is just what this state needs.
 
“There is probably no other public policy issue that will have a greater economic impact for more Mississippians than an effective workforce development system with all parts working together towards a common mission,” Sullivan said in an April news release. “The State’s goal in creating this office and now in hiring Ryan to lead it is to do just that, put strategies in place that will more quickly move the economic needle for Mississippi’s communities and households.”
 
Miller’s vision certainly matches that of Governor Tate Reeves. Governor Reeves said at the Mississippi Economic Council’s annual meeting in June that Accelerate MS will put Mississippi in a place to be successful for “many, many years.” Those are words of encouragement to Miller, but they also come with big expectations.

“Obviously there’s high expectations from the Governor, Lt. Governor (Delbert Hosemann), and the Speaker of the House (Phillip Gunn). All three of them have talked to me and said workforce is one of the single greatest issues, if not the greatest issue, facing the state of Mississippi. So, talk about the pressure hearing each one of those individuals, who I respect greatly, telling me, hey Ryan, don’t mess this up,” Miller said with a smile.
 
It was another thought underlined with self-deprecation, but there should be no confusing that tone with the confidence he conveys when speaking about his plan for his job and office.
 
“My belief is that there are eight different ecosystems throughout the state of Mississippi that have their own unique culture, history, infrastructure, geography, population density. They have their different strengths, their different weaknesses,” Miller said. “So, if we organize ourselves around these eight ecosystems, and if we quote unquote ‘set tables’ where you have industry, educators, policy makers, economic developers, and not-for-profits sitting at these tables having these open lines of communication on a consistent basis, I’m gonna hear two things: I’m gonna hear problems and issues that are unique to their communities, but I’m also gonna hear common denominators that rise to the top.
 
“If all eight of these tables within these ecosystems are working with us to identify problems, I’m gonna be able to see I think, hopefully, very quickly, that there are some consistent themes.”
 
Aside from communication, the other consistent theme with Miller is continuous improvement. Miller said he wants to use the Kaisen method to evaluate improvement, which is a Japanese method that observes a condition in order to identify an ideal condition.
 
“Even if you’ve got a system that seems to run and function well, it seems to be efficient, seems to be running effectively, the truth is there are continually ways you can improve, make it more effective, make it more efficient,” Miller said. “I would say what came out in the interview process is a desire to unlock those areas of improvement.”
 
Right now, Miller is building partnerships with the state’s community colleges as well as with various businesses in Mississippi. He also sees a valuable partner in the Mississippi Manufacturers Association.
 
“Where MMA is crucial is that they represent, to some degree, the backbone of industry in Mississippi,” he said. “And I’ve told John (McKay, MMA President and CEO) this before and I’ll tell it to him until I’m blue in the face, getting more industry to be willing to talk to us, work with us, and be able to tell us specifically what are your needs? I need more industry throughout the state to say 'here are our needs and here’s how we can help you in the office in Accelerate MS meet those needs'.
 
“We want to just help create the environment that allows the private industry to grow and thrive, so there’s gonna have to be skin in the game from them as much as there is from us. And John knows that, I think MMA knows that, and I think your membership, there’s a great deal of your membership that’s absolutely on board and willing to participate.”

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