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An eye on the Delta: Morgan believes regionalism is the key to success

Q&A: Chip Morgan, Executive Vice President of the Delta Council

With the Delta Council Annual Meeting for 2009 coming up, the Mississippi Business Journal was curious as to what the executive vice president, Chip Morgan, had to say about Delta Council’s past, present, and future issues and ideas.

Q — The Delta Council has been in existence for 75 years now. What do you think has been the key to the organization’s success?

A — success of any organization is enjoyed due to one word — the leadership provided by its people, whether it’s a civic club, a church, or a business organization like Delta Council. The three ingredients that have contributed most to the history of Delta Council are:

• Regionalism has become fashionable in recent years, but in the Delta, it simply is regional,

• People who could have been corporate executives of Fortune 1000 companies, have instead, remained in the Delta because of their love for it and donated hundreds of hours to making it a place that people are attached to, and

• Adversity is said to be the greatest stimulus for genius and the Delta’s past, as well as its more contemporary issues have been laced with adversity. From these challenges, people of all economic and social classes, as well as ethnic backgrounds are drawn together.

Q — What challenges does the Delta Council face?

A — Delta Council is regional, so any challenge which faces the Delta is a challenge for Delta Council. Health care, parenting and early childhood development, workforce education and training, and sustaining the basic public infrastructure of a rural region like the Delta in the midst of our Nation’s economic challenges, are the areas which Delta Council views as the most promising opportunities for improving our future

Q — What are some steps being taken to keep the people’s eye on the Delta?

A — Senator Cochran’s establishment of the Delta Health Alliance resulted from Delta constituencies from Delta Council spending hours with his staff in order to conceptualize what we believe is now one of the most promising programs of work ever to be established in the Mississippi Delta. The Delta Health Alliance is an example of local people throughout a region recognizing the health and educational disparities which exist in the Delta, primarily stemming from poverty, and trying to do something about it. If you live in Northeast Jackson, DeSoto County, or Hattiesburg, you take things like parenting skills, the relationship between obesity and diabetes, and adult literacy for granted. Because Delta people from all ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds are coming around conference tables in the Delta to work on these issues which we can cannot and will not take for granted, we are measuring and producing outcomes that demonstrate that these types of pervasive issues can be addressed successfully in the Delta. This is but one example of an initiative that we view as the type of regional effort which is drawing the attention of people in the health care and educational field.

Q — What industries are doing well in the Delta?

A — Interestingly enough, the jobs and infrastructure which provide services and inputs to agriculture, are doing quite well as a whole. When most people outside of the Delta think of agriculture, they think of manual labor and hourly-seasonal workers. By contrast, in an intensely agricultural region like the Mississippi Delta, more than 80% of the agricultural jobs are off-farm, salaried personnel which we call the agri-industrial complex which sells products and services to farmers. These people are generally high wage earners and according to Mississippi State University analysis, there are more than 30,000 people employed in the Delta who fall into this category. These businesses, which employ these off-farm professionals in Delta agriculture, are showing positive balance sheets in an extremely volatile world agricultural outlook. These allied agricultural-industry people are the backbone of our communities, our tax base, our churches and our little league programs — they are tremendous corporate citizens.

Q — The Delta Council is a staunch supporter of I-69. How big of an impact do you think the interstate would have on the region? The new Greenville bridge should be another big plus, right?

A — I-69 has been Delta Council’s biggest road priority for more than a decade. The Mississippi Delta has the only segment of Interstate 69 which is open to traffic, between Hernando and Robinsonville. Again, in the 7-State footprint of the I-69 project, this does not happen by coincidence. Instead, it happens because people from a large geographic region of the State are working together. I-69 is a 25-year, $24 billion public infrastructure project. Since public works projects such as this supersede county lines, it is clear that this will be a regional priority of Delta Council for many years into the future.

Q — Is the the Yazoo pump project still alive? Why is this project so mis-understood by the general public?

A — In our opinion, the federal courts will determine whether, a) federal agencies failed to disclose pertinent materials relative to the federal authority of EPA to veto this project, and b) whether, in fact under current law, the veto authority applies to this project.

In terms of the general public’s understanding or misunderstanding about this project, I note with interest that like many other public works project, whether local, regional, or national, the reasonableness of a person’s solution to a problem is almost always in direct proximity to their distance from that problem. In other words, whether you own a hunting club, or operate a convenience store, or farm for a living, or simply live on a county road in rural Mississippi, the closer your mailing address is to the South Delta region affected by this problem, the better you understand the significance and merits of managing floods. Alternatively, the further that your mailing address is from a zip code in the South Delta, the greater the opportunity is for you to be persuaded that flooding is good for animals, filthy, sewage-saturated floodwaters do not pose any increased risk to an already impoverished population, that flooding of county roads really has nothing to do with daily school bus routes in the rural areas, or that floods need to re-take the South Delta and that the people down there just need to move out.

When I read this question, I noted with amusement that I often fall victim to the temptation of giving advice and solutions for problems which are miles and miles away from the Mississippi Delta, such as the Shoccoe Dam, the two lakes plan, or the airport parkway. Fortunately, the experience of my job has helped me to have the judgment refrain from offering those solutions.

— Interviewed by Leslie Galloway

Chip Morgan, Delta Council

Age: 58

Hometown: Leland

Degree(s): Public Administration, University of Mississippi

Hobbies/Interests: Delta Council and yard work

Favorite Music: Two decades of soul, rock, and roll, the 60’s and 70’s

Favorite Movie: Cool Hand Luke

Favorite Food: Mustard greens with pepper sauce and cornbread

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