Thursday, November 6, 2008

Delta Views Nov. 7

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From: "Delta Regional Authority" <>
Date: Thu, 06 Nov 2008 20:07:43 -0500
To: James F. Valley<>
Subject: Delta Views Nov. 7

Nov. 7, 2008

Programs That Build The Delta
By Pete Johnson
At the Delta Regional Authority, we're probably best known for the grant program we operate in the eight states the DRA serves. Members of Congress have been announcing grants for the most recent grant cycle, and we're almost ready to begin the application process anew. The process starts with the local development districts, which serve as our frontline troops. These development districts are responsible for ensuring that we receive quality applications from across the region.
Once the grant applications are submitted by the development districts, I must determine which applications are eligible for funding and which are ineligible. There's an appeals process for those applicants whose submissions have been deemed ineligible. From the list of eligible applicants, the governors of the eight states we serve -- Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee -- must make recommendations to the full board. The board then decides which projects are funded based on the amount of money available each year.
Congress has mandated that transportation and basic public infrastructure projects must receive at least 50 percent of our appropriated funds. The DRA's areas of emphasis for funding are basic public infrastructure in distressed counties, transportation infrastructure for the purpose of facilitating economic development, business development and job training. Although our grant program receives the bulk of the publicity, the DRA is involved in a number of other areas as we attempt to execute a comprehensive strategy to build the Delta. Let me give you some recent examples of the type of things we're doing:
-- We agreed to partner with Jacksonville State University in Alabama and the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky on an effort that's designed to enhance the role rural newspaper publishers, newspaper editors and radio station managers play in economic development. Rural development and rural media have changed greatly during the past two decades. Rural areas once relied on low-wage jobs, low taxes and low land costs to attract employers. Globalization has removed the wage advantage. Even rural areas must now produce an educated, healthy workforce in order to compete in the knowledge-based economy of the new century. Local governments and economic development organizations cannot wait on the federal government or state governments to come to the rescue as this workforce is developed. They must do it themselves.
As traditional industries such as apparel and furniture manufacturing disappeared from the rural South, communities have struggled to find community and economic development approaches that work. Local newspapers and radio stations will play an important role in communicating the message that entrepreneurship, regional cooperation and building on existing community assets are vital to future development. The old models of Southern economic development will no longer cut it.
Rural newspapers have changed from largely independent ownership to chain ownership. The same is true of local radio stations. Today's managers often come from out of town and are less active in local economic development work. They answer more to their national headquarters than to their neighbors. It's much like the banking industry, where rural banks have been gobbled up by larger institutions with transplanted professionals now answering to absentee owners and shareholders. These are the types of fundamental changes the DRA should indeed be addressing as we refine our economic development strategy for the region.
-- We continue to announce on a regular basis the names of physicians who have been granted J-1 visa waivers by the U.S. Department of State to work in this region. The DRA's highly successful Delta Doctors program is designed to increase the number of physicians who provide care in the region. The Delta Doctors initiative allows foreign physicians who are trained in this country to work in medically underserved areas for three years. Many of them choose to stay far longer once they have developed a patient base.
The DRA is one of the few government agencies allowed to recommend visa waivers to the State Department. Medical school graduates from other countries normally are required to return to their home countries for at least two years after they complete their education. These physicians must provide primary care in their specialty fields for at least 40 hours a week. They also must provide care to the indigent, Medicaid recipients and Medicare recipients. This program is a prime example of the type of things we're doing to improve the lives of Delta residents.
-- The DRA has completed work on an update of its strategic plan for the region. We've also completed a multimodal transportation plan. In developing the strategic plan update and the multimodal plan, we asked ourselves why income growth in this region has fallen so far behind the rest of the country. We determined that a major reason is the Delta's continuing dependence on a declining industrial and agricultural base. While much of the rest of the nation made the transition to information technology and a growing professional service sector, the Delta adhered to a failing economic model. This forced our most educated people to leave the region. Far too many of the residents who were left behind lacked access to the resources needed to become competitive in the new economy.
As the nation moves forward, Delta communities will fall further into decline and the population will become even more dependent on public assistance unless there's a shift in the economic development strategies. We're seeking to spur that shift. In order to be an effective federal-state partnership, the DRA's mission can't be limited to attempts to reduce unemployment and poverty in dying communities. We must rethink our priorities. We must concentrate on developing the assets needed to sustain long-term growth.
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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