Saturday, October 11, 2008

Delta Views Oct. 10

From: "Delta Regional Authority" <>
Date: Sat, 11 Oct 2008 08:26:26 -0500
To: James F. Valley<>
Subject: Delta Views Oct. 10



Oct. 10, 2008

Planning For Our Future
By Pete Johnson
The Delta Regional Authority has completed an update of its regional development plan, a document that will be distributed to members of Congress, governors, local elected officials, economic developers, community leaders and others across the region. As we discuss this plan during the next several months, I want to stress that this isn't just another in a long line of studies about the Delta. It's not one of those documents that will sit on the shelves of congressional staffers, buried under similar reports. What we've attempted to produce is, in essence, a workbook that people in the 252 counties and parishes we serve will use to guide their development efforts. It includes specific goals and clearly outlined strategies for meeting those goals.
The eight states we represent -- Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee -- are now working on state strategic plan updates that will dovetail into this regional plan. Using both the regional plan and the state plans, local development districts and other entities in our region will have an easy-to-follow tool kit for advancement. This is one of the most important pieces of work we've done since the DRA was formed by Congress in 2000.
The overarching concepts behind the regional development plan are to:
-- Field a competitive workforce so communities in the region can grow and prosper.
-- Ensure we have performance-outcome measures that will allow us to track our progress.
The old Southern economic development model of opening an industrial park on the edge of town and hoping manufacturing companies will show up is no longer sufficient. Community leaders must now take a more holistic approach to economic development. As I've often stated in my speeches, most demographers believe there will be more jobs than there are qualified people to fill those jobs during the next three decades. The question will be which communities take the steps necessary to attract the best jobs.
Economic development these days is about far more than industrial recruitment. Community leaders have to build on their existing attributes, make sure they're fielding a competitive workforce and then work like crazy to attract private investment. They must:
1. Improve the health of the people in their communities with the clear understanding that healthy people yield healthy economies.
2. Deepen the culture of learning through improved public schools, workforce training programs and adult literacy programs.
3. Embrace diversity and new ways of thinking.
4. Nurture an entrepreneurial culture that will allow their communities to attract talented people who are passionate about what they do.
5. Deploy broadband internet access and other forms of enhanced information technology throughout their communities.
The economic competitiveness of rural areas is no longer assured through natural resources and inexpensive labor. The Delta region, predominantly rural and still largely agricultural, must do a better job of developing and retaining the talent necessary to find its place in the global economy -- an economy in which knowledge and innovation are rewarded. Developing talent encompasses more than providing a technically skilled workforce. In the new century, it entails educated, healthy and motivated citizens who can elevate the communities in which they live.
In order for our region to achieve a greater level of economic vitality, a higher percentage of healthy and educated residents is a must. Poor health diminishes economic output by reducing both labor productivity and the relative size of the labor force. Low educational attainment limits earning potential and is increasingly linked to lower life expectancy. Recognizing these connections, the DRA is working to enhance the competitiveness of the people who live here. We're forming partnerships with the private sector and other regional players so we can apply new ideas to solving old problems. We need leaders at the local level to address issues such as chronic disease, health-care access, workforce productivity and adult literacy. These issues are at the heart of today's brand of community and economic development.
Given the current economic situation, there's a real danger that the Delta region will drift from the national consciousness. Even though attention was focused on Louisiana and Mississippi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina three years ago, the Delta is easily discounted in the national debate despite its rich history and culture. There's little doubt that this region represents the greatest concentration of need in the country. At the DRA, we're working hard to ensure the Delta isn't forgotten as a new administration sets up shop in Washington next year.
No one denies that the problems are profound. We're not kidding ourselves. We're realists. And the realistic view is that without a committed response to these issues, things will never get better. We must bring together talent in the Delta, solve problems and leverage funding. Ensuring a trained and educated talent pool has to be our primary goal. Places such as the Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle of North Carolina, Boston, Austin and Phoenix already are talent magnets. But without a broader base of skilled workers throughout rural America -- including the 252 counties and parishes we serve -- we're shortchanging our national potential.
Let's put our blinders on and focus on the need for a talented workforce in the Delta. By "talented," I mean motivated, educated and skilled. With health as an essential precondition, we can begin moving forward with the understanding that our workforce crisis won't be solved by the public sector alone. We need the active participation of the business sector. The last thing we want to do is simply repackage existing workforce development ideas and training programs.
The recently completed update of our regional development plan offers an exciting vision for the Delta. We're anxious to share that vision with those in Washington and across the eights states we serve.
Pete Johnson of Clarksdale, Miss., is the federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority. He was appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2001.


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