CLEVELAND – At the Delta Council`s 69th-annual meeting May 7th at Delta State University, people were buzzing about progress on vital issues, including transportation, agriculture, healthcare and education and workforce development.
“There`s good reason for optimism this year,” said Delta Council president Dan Branton of Leland. “Agriculture had one of its best years in decades, existing industries in the Delta are showing strong signs of growth, and we have begun to see new businesses make long-term commitments to the region,” he said.
Situations that some called hopeless a few years ago – teacher shortages in the Delta, healthcare, workforce training, literacy, new industrial locations and continued flood relief, among many others – have been helped by the work of the Delta Council, said Branton.
“Delta Council cannot impact the direction of the international economy or the price of commodities, but we can work on those issues that directly affect our little piece of the world in order that we may enjoy a better economy and quality of life today and tomorrow,” he said.
Congress and the Mississippi Legislature appear to be taking good care of transportation improvements in the region, including the U.S. 82 Bridge, Interstate 69 and increased formula allocation to Mississippi, said Ken Murphree, Tunica chairman of the Delta Council Transportation Committee.
“Delta Council has also been directly involved with our congressional delegation, as the new TEA-LU transportation bill has worked its way through Congress,” said Murphree, who added that the region is “fortunate to have Bill Minor as our new Northern District transportation commissioner. Bill is a veteran state official who knows the system and how to use it to our advantage. His experience working with our other Delta commissioner, Dick Hall, should reap benefits for the Delta.”
Delta FARM (Farmers Advocating Resource Management) and Delta Wildlife are working with landowners in the region to conserve, enhance and restore natural and wildlife resources by providing technical assistance and helping implement long-term projects to increase land value.
“Hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational activities are drawing more and more people to Mississippi,” said Mississippi Development Authority executive director Leland Speed. “Delta Wildlife is working to improve the very resources that are attracting this growing market.”
The Mississippi State University Department of Agricultural Economics reports that direct and spillover impact from the agricultural and forestry sectors comprise nearly half the employment and about 64% of income generated in the Delta.
“These figures demonstrate very clearly that if the prosperity of this area is going to improve, then agricultural income must make a significant increase,” said Bruce Brumfield of Inverness, 1982-83 president of the Delta Council. “In order to improve income, we must be successful in our efforts to sustain higher yields, therefore reducing input costs.”
Woods Eastland, CEO of Staplcotn in Greenwood, said the Delta Council is one of only a few farm organizations in the U.S. recognized on Capitol Hill, in the White House and in the U.S. Department of Agriculture as being a lead spokesperson for agriculture.
“As the catfish industry faced a deliberate and insidious assault on the U.S. farm-raised catfish industry by Vietnam, we knew that the industry was in for a long legal and political battle,” said Seymour Johnson of Indianola, chairman of the Catfish Farmers of America Vietnamese Committee, which associated itself “immediately with Delta Council to help fight their efforts. They were a tremendous asset in allowing us to be successful.”
Healthcare and education
The Delta Health Alliance has marshaled a strategic partnership of federal, state and local institutions of higher learning and public agencies to improve education and access to the region`s healthcare providers. The alliance is establishing an agromedicine program to aid healthcare providers and educators with remedial and preventive measures to reduce the incidences that historically accompany rural, agricultural environments. The alliance has also developed a model for reducing the severity of diabetes in the region.
Now in its second year, the Delta Council Literacy Program has demonstrated that in eight 30-minute sessions, people who had previously been limited to reading at a picture-level can now hold an entry-level position.
During the worst days of the manufacturing downturn, many naysayers lamented the Delta might never be able to compete, that its workforce could not perform at the necessary level. The region invested heavily in workforce training, said Branton.
Existing industries such as Baxter Healthcare, Delta Wire, Uncle Ben`s and Milwaukee Electric Tool and new companies like Faurecia, Textron, SportRak and Casco have benefited from workforce development programs.
“Businesses are constantly looking at ways to cut costs, but at the same time, training is an essential part of any company`s growth,” said Jennifer Marshall, training coordinator for Viking Range Corporation. “Because of the grant monies that have become available, Viking has been able to provide more training for its employees more quickly, more economically, and we have not been forced to send employees out of the state for training. Quality training is available locally, and in some cases, on site.”
BankPlus, Delta Regional Medical Center, Federal Land Bank Association, Morgan Keegan and The KBH Corporation of Clarksdale sponsored the 2004 Delta Council annual meeting.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.