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New Farm Bill, transportation progress, opening of Delta Center, celebrated at annual meeting

Delta Council reports record year at annual meeting

CLEVELAND — The Delta Council had a lot to celebrate at its 67th annual meeting May 24 at the Bologna Performing Arts Center on the campus of Delta State University in Cleveland.

The new Farm Bill. Progress on the Mississippi River Bridge near Greenville. The recently completed Delta Center in Indianola.

But the best is yet to come: I-69.

“The I-69 project will serve as a foundation for economic development in this region that has not been possible to date,” said Frank Howell, director of development for the Delta Council. “We’ve seen more construction and planning activity in the state of Mississippi than in any of the other nine states that the interstate traverses. We’re very excited about its potential.”

Ben Lamensdorf, immediate past president and a farmer from Cary, called 2002 “the best year ever” for the Delta Council.

“Our membership is the highest ever,” he said. The Delta Council has more than 3,000 member families.

“A lot of projects are going very well. For every venture we’ve started, we’ve had positive reactions.”

More than 2,000 business, professional and agricultural leaders and top elected officials attended the annual meeting, which featured U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) as the keynote speaker at the catfish and hush puppy luncheon.

“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,” said Cochran. “It has been a source of valuable advice and counsel to me during my service in the Senate.”

Cochran talked about the recently enacted Farm Bill and other legislation Congress is considering that will directly benefit the Delta.

The annual meeting has often been referred to by area residents as a “red-letter day” and described as “a combination political happening, social event and old-fashioned dinner on the grounds.” On Delta Council Day in 1947, Dean Acheson, then Under Secretary of State, unveiled the outline of The Marshall Plan. Five years later, Mississippi Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner discussed the connection between independence, freedom and responsibility. Other nationally recognized leaders who have spoken at the annual meeting have included David Rockefeller, Apollo 14 Commander Admiral Alan B. Shepard and former presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.

“There has not been an elected official in my lifetime who has made a bigger impact on the future of the Mississippi Delta than Thad Cochran,” said Lamensdorf. “He has positively touched every aspect of our economy and well-being of our region, and as someone who is so familiar with the strengths and challenges we face in the Delta, his keynote address (had) special meaning this year.”

Prior to the annual meeting, noted Washington political analyst Stuart Rothenberg addressed the Delta Council board of directors and Delta 1000 members. Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, columnist for Capitol Hill’s Roll Call, regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal and to CNN’s political Internet site, was selected because “with a very critical election year coming up in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, we thought it would be good for our members of Delta 1000 and our board to hear his thoughts on the political landscape,” said Lamensdorf.

A salute to honor graduates, featuring 60 valedictorians and salutatorians from the region, kicked off the annual meeting.

“We need these young people to come back to Mississippi and help us shape our destiny,” said Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Stoneville-based Delta Council, an area development organization representing 18 Delta counties in northwest Mississippi, was established in 1935 and is most often recognized for its contributions to farm legislation, highway development, and national initiatives to fund important programs for the development of the area’s economy.

Fourteen of the 18 counties are now eligible for special tax incentives known as Growth And Prosperity (GAP) status, a designation that has made the Delta attractive to Nissan suppliers.

Last year, Delta Council coordinated approximately 370 meetings, which drew input and participation from more than 2,500 people throughout the region.

“Delta Council has a very full plate and its officers are to be commended for the work they do during the year,” said Kenneth Hood, past president of the Delta Council and chairman of the executive committee. “In addition to the good job it’s done in agriculture and economic development, Delta Council has become more involved in education through a cooperative effort with Delta State.”

In 1997, Delta Council’s highway policy supported an I-69 river crossing in the vicinity of Eutaw Landing, located at the county line of Bolivar and Washington counties. With a consensus-based approach — the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Mississippi Congressional Delegation have all agreed on the site — the crossing has now become the preferred river-crossing alignment of local public officials and could prove to accelerate the Mississippi portion of I-69 construction ahead of all other construction reaches on this route.

“The next element of the Delta Council strategy on I-69 will be focused on the state line crossing between Tennessee and Mississippi,” said Howell. “This piece would give Mississippi the advantage of an interstate connection between four-lane highways U.S. 72, U.S. 78, I-55 and U.S. 61. All members of the Mississippi congressional delegation have been in support of the Delta Council policy for the state line crossing.”

Construction recently began on the new four-lane bridge on U.S. 82. Upon completion in five years, commercial and industrial traffic will have a four-lane corridor from Atlanta to the West Coast.

“The recent announcement between the Columbus and Greenville Railway and the Canadian National Railway certainly strengthens our primary rail freight carrier to the Delta,” said Howell. “Additionally, Delta Council must begin carefully studying the next steps that need to be taken to introduce more competitive freight rates for raw materials and finished goods moving to and from the West, possibly through a Mississippi River rail crossing combined with the I-69 crossing.”

Working in partnership with the Mississippi Delta Community College, the Delta Center for Manufacturing Technology opened in Indianola earlier this year. Nissan officials have already toured the world-class workforce training facility, which provides skills assessment, remedial instruction, employability skills and advanced training for the area workforce.

“Continued education and workforce training are critical if the Delta is to compete with other regions of the country and that is why Delta Council is focusing so much effort on these initiatives,” said Howell.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at (800) 993-3392 or lwjeter@yahoo.com</a.

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