ByLyn E. Haralson
After four years of hard work by the staff of the Mid-South Community College, a center for training people for jobs in the transportation industry will open next year in West Memphis, Ark.
Located in a revamped automobile dealership, the college's Delta Regional Transportation Technology Center will offer advanced and entry-level training in distribution, warehousing, heavy truck maintenance and transportation technology. Eventually, the center will provide training for high school students, too, at their own schools.
The training facility was funded in part by the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a federal-state partnership established by law in 2000 and opening its doors a year later. Other funding agencies were the Arkansas Department of Economic Development, the Economic Development Administration and the U.S. Department of Education.
Another DRA project can be seen at the Cleveland Depot Library in Cleveland, Miss. Four rooms were converted into two new computer labs, an additional office and an English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom. The project, a partnership with the library and Bolivar County library system, enabled supporters to double the number of computers available to local citizens. The goal of the project is to combat illiteracy in Bolivar County.
These partnerships are examples of the type of work the DRA, a federal-state partnership, was designed to do. The DRA focuses on severe, chronic economic distress in the Delta, works to stimulate economic development and fosters partnerships that have a positive impact on the region's economy. The authority has identified five critical components to ensure its success: education, transportation, affordable health care, access to capital, and affordable and decent housing.
If you had to boil the mission of the authority down to one word, that word would probably be "leverage." The authority is not just another federal agency with grant money, but a coordinating agency. Its goal is to use its grant money to leverage additional federal and state dollars to accomplish economic development in the Lower Mississippi Delta.
To date, DRA has leveraged the organization's $28 million in grant funds into $126 million in federal and state money, which successfully funded 122 projects. Basic infrastructure development, transportation improvements, business development and job training services are among the projects completed.
Under federal law, at least 75 percent of DRA grant funds must be invested in distressed counties and parishes and pockets of poverty, with 50 percent of the funds earmarked for transportation and basic infrastructure improvements.
The DRA covers part or all of 240 counties and parishes in an eight-state area, including:
The governing body of DRA is composed of a federal co-chairman appointed by the president and the governors of the participating states. The governors annually elect a state co-chairman.
For more information about the Delta Regional Authority, visit its web site at www.dra.gov or call its office at (662) 624-8600.