JACKSON — Dickie Stevens, president of a catfish processing company in the Delta, knows there are already several groups attempting to bolster the poverty-stricken region, but he believes there’s room for one more.
Stevens is a member of the executive board of the Mississippi Delta Strategic Compact, which was given its formal charge this week. The compact was created on the recommendation of a legislative task force that spent more than two years studying ways to improve the region.
The 18-county Delta has some of the highest poverty rates in the country, and has been plagued by illiteracy and health care woes.
Hundreds of millions of government dollars have been pumped into the area over the years, and numerous organizations have been created with the sole purpose of improving the quality of life in the Delta. Yet, according to a report released last year by the task force, unemployment rates in 2008 ranged from 10 percent to 17 percent in some counties. The report found almost 18 percent of the adult population has less than a 9th-grade education.
“It’s tough up here in the Delta,” said Stevens, who owns Consolidated Catfish in Isola and is president of the Humphreys County Board of Supervisors. “There are an awful lot of organizations in the Delta and everybody has real good objectives, but everybody in running in a lot of different directions.”
Stevens said it’s too soon to talk about strategies. The organization is still gathering its board members, which will include two representatives from each Delta county.
Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, who was a member of the task force, said the compact’s mission will be to initiate policies addressing education, health care and job creation. He said the compact will pull all the other groups in the Delta together.
“There’s going to be a cohesiveness in place to deal with issues that haven’t been dealt with in the past,” Hines said.
Gary Anderson, a consultant working with the compact, said the organization will model itself after the CREATE Foundation, the oldest and largest community foundation in Mississippi, which is located in an area that will be home to a Toyota manufacturing plant.