Friday, October 24, 2008

Fw: Delta Views Oct. 24

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From: "Delta Regional Authority" <>
Date: Fri, 24 Oct 2008 09:28:58 -0500
To: James F. Valley<>
Subject: Delta Views Oct. 24

Oct. 24, 2008

Getting Our Priorities Straight

By Pete Johnson

Impoverished regions such as the Delta face formidable challenges as they attempt to become more competitive in the knowledge-based economy of the new century. We must, of course, improve our inadequate physical infrastructure, with major improvements needed in areas ranging from roads to airports to the ports along our rivers. Realizing the crying need to enhance the region's infrastructure, the Delta Regional Authority completed its Delta Development Highway System plan last year while finishing work earlier this year on a multimodal plan for the region.

It's about much more than roads and ports, though. Those in the Delta must also focus on the rapidly changing face of technology. Never having made substantial investments in earlier technologies, impoverished regions sometimes are more free to fully embrace new systems, ideas and products. This has happened in parts of India and Kenya. It happened in the former East Germany. And it can happen in the Delta. The fact is that we can operate differently and more creatively than ever before. But we're going to have to change our priorities while understanding that modern economic development is about far more than opening industrial parks and business parks on the edge of town. The old models of economic development will no longer suffice.

For one thing, broadband internet access is critical these days to economic advancement. In the transportation realm, we've learned that highway corridors function best when we anticipate development patterns, not when we try to create them. There are too many communities in our region that assume that four-lane access will automatically generate jobs. That's not the case. The information technology revolution of the past few decades has permanently altered this country's economic and social environments. To be all that we can be, the people of the Delta must embrace these information technology applications.

The DRA's plan for information technology, known as iDelta, was released last year and can be found at our website at That plan drew three fundamental conclusions:

1. The accessibility, awareness and utilization of broadband infrastructure and resources are necessities for individual, business, government and institutional success.

2. The 252 counties and parishes served by the DRA generally trail other parts of the country in accessibility, awareness and utilization of broadband infrastructure and resources.

3. The DRA is the ideal organization to play a lead role in assembling and distributing resources for information technology in the region.

The iDelta plan further notes that local governments, businesses and non-profit organizations should work together to:

-- Augment the expansion of health-care access to all Delta residents through the use of information technology. Telehealth applications should include basic and specialized clinical services, professional continuing education for providers and improved medical practice management.

-- Ensure that all Delta residents have access to broadband internet while giving them the training needed to operate in the knowledge-based environment of the 21st century.

-- Improve the awareness of Delta residents of the value of technology to their economic future.

-- Ensure that the proper resources are available for those residents to achieve success.

-- Support the use of distance education capabilities in all schools.

-- Support the training of the personnel needed to manage those distance learning operations.

-- Enhance workforce development by providing all adults access to training in computer literacy and business practices such as e-commerce and entrepreneurship.

-- Develop and maintain advanced websites that provide information and services to citizens.

We already have good models to follow in our region. In Kentucky, for example, the ConnectKentucky organization develops and implements strategies for technology deployment, use and literacy. Its mission is to accelerate the growth of technology in support of community and economic development, improved health care, enhanced education and more effective government.

In a recent column in the Todd County Standard in Kentucky, Ryan Craig wrote: "It is time to make technology a priority. It is time for us to leapfrog into the future, and that might mean supporting a way to pay for high-speed service that is affordable for all of the people of Todd County. It also might be time to put pressure on those who are in campaigns to either capture or recapture an elected office. ... Those who want to be our U.S. senator, our U.S. representative, our state senator or our state representative need to be put on notice that the future is now. It is time for our priorities to be focused on health, technology and making Todd County a place that will attract a better kind of economic development. How do we make it happen? We stop hoping against all hope that something will fall out of the sky and put in place a future we all can be proud of."

Ryan could be speaking for any of our 252 counties and parishes. The times have changed when it comes to community and economic development. We must get our priorities straight.

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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