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Delta cities first to earn certified innovation communities status

The Mississippi Delta is one of the poorest areas not only of the state, but the nation. Raising per capita income is a daunting challenge, but two communities are turning to technology for answers. Earlier this month, the Cleveland and Greenville were honored at a ceremony held at the Delta Council Office in Stoneville. The two cities are the first not only in the Delta, but the entire state, to be named certified innovation communities (CICs).

The CIC pilot program is for communities committed to building and implementing a strategy for continuous improvement by focusing on innovation-led and technology-based economic development. The goal is to increase per capita income and, thus, quality of life of the citizens.

Embracing technology, boosting business

The purpose of the CIC program is to identify and celebrate a community’s level of technology readiness. The program identifies a community’s strengths and weaknesses and provides the framework by which a community can equip itself to embrace technology-dependent applications for residents, small business, large business, city and county government and medical and educational institutions.

The Mississippi Delta Technology Council (MDTC), in partnership with Delta State University and the Mississippi Technology Alliance, worked closely with Cleveland and Greenville residents to research six cornerstones of their local economic development. They are: technology infusion and access to research; entrepreneurship; capital; human resources; business assistance; and, social networks and quality of life.

The community teams helped assess the resources needs of innovative enterprises and high-technology or high-growth companies. The teams also provided input into future planning for communities.

The work done by the MDTC on the CIC project fits neatly into its mission and purpose.

‘Champion for technology’

“The Mississippi Delta Technology Council is a champion for technology in the Delta,” says Dr. Myrtis Tabb, executive director of the MDTC, which partnered with MTA and AT&T on the project. “The purpose of the MDTC is to enhance the strengths of the Delta by promoting, celebrating and leveraging successful applications of technology. Through the CIC pilot program. Cleveland and Greenville have worked very hard, and we are pleased to recognize them as the first certified innovation communities in the State of Mississippi.”

Bubba Weir, vice president for community services at MTA, says, “It has been wonderful to work with MDTC, professional economic developers, community champions and team members that have been committed to participate in this process, to learn about innovation-led economic development, assess their community and regional assets and develop an implementation plan.”

The two cities are equally pleased to receive the CIC designation.

Tommy Hart, the Greenville team leader, says, “The most prosperous communities are those with technology-based businesses. Technology fuels sustainable economic expansion, creating high-wage jobs, world-class exports and productivity.”

Judson Thigpen, Cleveland team leader, says, “It gives us an excellent opportunity to assess our current status in respect to technology/innovation and to determine what our needs will be for the future. From this process, we will be able to devise strategies to develop and improve our economic development programs.”

Innovation-led economic development

For those who may find technology and the Delta incongruous, Dr. Randy Goldsmith, president and CEO of MTA says look again.

“There are strong technology and research assets at Stoneville that can be promoted and mined for innovation-led economic development,” he says. “Delta State University and other business assistance organizations have the capacity to be great facilitators of entrepreneurship. There is regional network of capital providers that can fund technology enterprises.”

Future Point Consulting provided guidance throughout the pilot process, and funding was provided by grants from the U. S. Small Business Administration and AT&T.

The cities of Greenville and Cleveland were the first CICs, but they will not be the last. On August 13, Goldsmith announced that MTA had agreed to partner with the Economic Development Authority of Jones County as a CIC.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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