On Second Thought

by Chris Elkins

Published: July 26,1999

Would you believe it if someone told you there is a non-profit corporation in Mississippi that has as its goal increasing the Delta’s job rate growth 3% to 4% annually for the next five years? What would you say if that goal also included creating almost 40,000 new jobs in the Delta during that same period? Sounds unbelievable doesn’t it? Well the non-profit is very real, and it has already helped to create more than 6,000 jobs in the Delta and had an annual sales impact of $221 million.

Earlier this month, Mississippi had the opportunity to host President Clinton. Why did the President choose to come to Mississippi? He wanted to see first hand the impact that this little known non-profit corporation has made on the economy of the region, and specifically the Delta. A fact that somehow was lost in the pomp-and-fanfare that comes with a Presidential visit.

The Enterprise Corporation of Delta (ECD) began operations in 1994 with a mission to improve the quality of life for low- and moderate-income residents of the Delta regions of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Partnering with manufacturing extension services, educational institutions, business consultants, banking institutions, and other organizations, ECD began offering technical and financial assistance to small businesses in the region that were unable to get traditional financing. ECD’s board was composed of some of the region’s most prominent business and civic leaders, and its staff represented years of experience in finance, business, and community development. Everything was in place for a successful endeavor.

In less than five years, under the direction of such prominent Mississippi board members as Hodding Carter, Chuck Dunn, Billy Percy, George Walker, Robert Walker, Hiram Walters, Zach Wasson, and William Winter, ECD has definitely made an impact. During its first five years in operation, ECD provided more than $21 million in financial and technical assistance to 693 businesses, 292 of which were minority owned and 345 female owned. A phenomenal record by anyone’s standards. Such well known financial institutions as Bank of America have invested in ECD, an organization that is willing to take risks most financial institutions are unwilling take. ECD offers loans at variable and fixed rates, with margins above prime risk-adjusted for each applicant.

Many companies have great potential but are considered high risk by traditional lending institutions because of the lack of a track record, failure to meet standard lending and investment criteria or collateral requirements, and in those instances banks encourage businesses to seek the assistance of ECD. In fact, many Mississippi banks partner with ECD. The Bank of Anguilla, Bank of Yazoo City, Union Planters Bank and Trust, Deposit Guaranty and Trustmark Bank are among its many partners. More jobs and an improved economy brings more opportunity for everyone, including our states banking institutions.

The secret of ECD’s success is what Bill Bynum, president and CEO, calls “hard work, innovative financing options, and value-added services of education and training.” This strategy requires that ECD place offices and staff throughout the Delta region. Currently, business development officers are stationed in Cleveland, Vicksburg, Jackson, Hernando, Jonesboro, Ark., Pine Bluff, Ark., and Monroe, La.

If you would like to know more about the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta check out its new Web site, www.ecd.org. The site offers considerable information regarding services and products offered by ECD to small and medium-sized businesses in the 58 county and parish area it serves, including hyperlinks to ECD funders and partners.

It may be some time before we have another visit from a President. Until then, the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta will continue its work improving the lives of Mississippians.

See you at the (Neshoba County) Fair!

Donald C. Simmons Jr., an award-winning writer and lecturer, received his Ph.D. at the University of Denver. His column appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal.

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