SuperTalk Mississippi

BYOB: Are you from Texas?

I love history. I grew up in the piney woods of Mississippi near the Free State of Jones. As some of you may know, the area is known for pine trees, collecting pitch, and being red clay poor — which is poorer than dirt because the only thing you can grow in red clay is pine trees.

Although largely lost in oral traditions, GTT — or “Gone to Texas” — was a thing in the late 19th century. People in this area would write “GTT” or “G4T” on their doors, usually in large letters, usually painted, and then they would abandon their homes to the elements. They left their homes looking for a better future. Imagine having so little, that even the “promise” of something better was more alluring than the misery you were in. Those were tough times.

When Lazy Magnolia opened up our market to include Texas, I found myself going door to door, really bar to bar, but you get the idea, selling beer. Every bar I went in, every bartender, every manager, would ask as soon as I sampled the beer, “Are you from Texas?”

Eventually, I came to understand that Texas had a sense of pride that is hard to appreciate until you are facing it from the back of the line. I say back of the line, because right after I told the bartender or manager I was from Mississippi, they would jerk their finger and let me know that I had to go to the back of the line. In many cases, it didn’t matter how much better my product was, or how much (or little) it cost, they would always give a Texas company preference over any product made anywhere else.

It wasn’t that they disliked Mississippi. Everyone I met had a story about relatives from Mississippi. From “I still have an aunt in Mississippi” to the occasional “I go back to Mississippi every couple years,” l heard lots of that really focused on the good people of Mississippi, the beautiful scenery, and the slower speed of life.

The Texans fundamentally understood what we were selling. They had a distinctive link to the South. We shared culture, values, and tastes. We even bought the pecans that we used in making our flagship beer from Texas. But, we weren’t from Texas. We weren’t a Texas company. They were willing to support Texas, even to their own detriment, against the results of a blind taste test, against real sales data, and against even their own professed desires.

In 20 years, having visited nearly every beer-selling establishment in Mississippi, I have only been asked once, “Are you from Mississippi?” A few enlightened beverage managers have given us a tap specifically because we were from Mississippi. Much more frequently, I was penalized by Mississippians because we were from Mississippi. These same people jump at the chance to showcase something from out of state.

The most egregious of these penalties, the one that hurt me to my core, was when I found out that the Department of Revenue actually taxed Mississippi businesses more than businesses from out of state.

Lazy Mag operates in 17 states, and we pay nearly every one of those states a license fee to be able to sell beer in that state. Texas is expensive. Until recently, we paid $6,000 every other year to have access to their market. We pay Mississippi a similar license fee and we don’t mind. We love our state, our state parks, our department of health, and all the amenities that our state affords us.

Imagine my pain when I learned that Mississippi doesn’t charge out-of-state breweries a license fee. That fee may not mean much to many businesses, but there have been years when I paid more in taxes than I took home. Learning that the playing field wasn’t fair was a little too much to bear. I had a meeting with the DOR to explain how this could and should be fixed, that we paid taxes in every state, and that it was a detriment to our ability to compete in the marketplace. Our ask was that the fee be applied to all beer suppliers — just like it is in most other states. It would be a win for Mississippi by bringing in more revenue from out-of-state. The DOR refused to address it.

It speaks to a much deeper issue in Mississippi. We lack pride in our state. A state’s greatest asset is the pride of its citizens. We have so much to be proud of.

Texas does not have that problem. Texas sometimes gets in trouble with the U.S. government because it treats Texas companies better than out-of-state companies. But there is no way that Texas would ever treat its own citizens worse than it treats those from out of state.

We need to be more like Texas. Let’s focus on Mississippi companies. Let’s focus on jobs in the state of Mississippi. Let’s focus on making sure that the playing field is at least level, and that our own citizens are playing the game with a ball and chain around their ankles.

The next time you make a purchase, whether it be food, furniture, or a frying pan, ask yourself if you can buy that product made in Mississippi. If you can find a comparable product made in Mississippi, be prepared to pay a few more dollars.

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column one

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column two

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column three

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column four

ICYMI: Brewing Your Own Business column five

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of SuperTalk Mississippi Media.

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