Gibb Steele III, a farmer whose operation is located near Hollandale in the Mississippi Delta, was in California for a meeting of rice producers in the 1990s when he started hearing people singing the praises of an organization that was headquartered not far from his farm.
“I had these people coming up to me saying how much they wished they had an organization like the Delta Council working for them where they were from,” remembered Steele, who today serves as a vice president of the Delta Council. “I came back to Mississippi determined to get involved.
“I can’t tell you everything the Delta Council has done for this region over the years, and continues to do. It is a great group.”
While the Mississippi Delta may lag other areas of the state in terms of economic development, the Delta Council was and continues to be a pioneer. An area economic development organization representing the 18 Delta and part-Delta counties in Northwest Mississippi, Delta Council is closing in on its 75th anniversary.
The multi-faceted organization was established in 1935 by a group of farsighted citizens. First headquartered on the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland (where the organization still holds its Annual Meeting), its original mission was to represent the Delta and part-Delta counties, which encompasses some 5.5 million acres.
Factors leading to the organization of Delta Council included the highly diverse mix of people, their dependence upon agriculture, necessity for flood control and the need for an adequate highway system.
In 1938, recognizing that the area’s economy was dependent on cotton, Delta Council founded the National Cotton Council of America, and today this organization represents cotton-growing interests throughout the Cotton Belt.
Delta Council has expanded its work from its original mission to include a program of activities relating to business, healthcare, education, agricultural research, industrial development and natural resource development.
Delta Council, which today is headquartered in Stoneville on the grounds of Delta Branch Experiment Station, initiated the establishment of a regional area development program in 1957, with the objective of creating new jobs while expanding business investment opportunities. The program is designed to assist area communities in becoming internationally competitive by creating a business climate that promotes new business locations and existing business expansions.
In short, Delta Council provides a medium through which the agricultural, business and professional leadership of the area could work together to solve common problems and promote the development of the economy of the area.
Delta Council is supported and financed by dues-paying members and by the counties that it represents. It, indeed, is a member-driven organization. Its board of directors is elected by a referendum vote of the members representing the counties and municipalities of the area. Officers, including a president, a minimum of four vice presidents and a treasurer, are nominated by a committee. Their nomination is ratified by the board of directors and by the membership of the organization.
The staff of Delta Council is hired by the Executive Committee, and answers to that body.
Ken Murphree, a past president of the Delta Council, told the MBJ once that he attributed Delta Council’s success to “a large number of leaders who are not content to accept the status quo when, through deliberate, inclusive and reasonable coordination of efforts, positive changes can occur.
“Just as Delta Council does not get involved in purely local issues, as they are best decided by the people who live and work in those communities, we are not content to defer the solutions for the region’s challenges to those who live far away from here, and therefore are removed from the challenge and the solution.”
U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) has served as the keynote speaker at the Delta Council’s Annual Meeting. Cochran has made it known that he is a big fan of the organization.
“The Delta Council has been a very important influence in the effort to improve the quality of life for the people who live in the Mississippi Delta,” Cochran told the MBJ. “It has been a source of valuable advice and counsel to me during my service in the Senate.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.