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|Newton says job training, quality of life improvements key to Delta's growth|
For the Delta region to prosper, it must improve its infrastructure to attract business and industry. The region also must prepare its workforce for those new jobs.
That's according to West Monroe/West Ouachita Chamber of Commerce President Mary Ann Newton, who recently was appointed to Delta Regional Authority's Leadership Institute.
She gave a presentation about Delta Regional Authority Monday at the West Monroe Convention Center.
Delta Regional Authority comprises 252 counties and parishes in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. In 2000, Congress established the authority to enhance economic development and to improve the quality of life in the Delta region.
During its first six years, DRA's federal grant program funded 385 projects, using $56 million in DRA funds.
Approximately 75 percent of DRA's funds must be invested in economically distressed counties or parishes.
Newton said DRA's projects must be sustainable. They also must have a long-lasting impact on a community.
"One of the best projects I know that's an example of that is the water treatment facility monies that are being used in the city of Rayville," Newton said.
She said the Civil War, Great Depression and most recently, hurricanes, devastated the South. Compared to other regions of the United States, little has been done to improve the Delta region.
"So many of these things created a great strain on the economy and livelihood of the South," Newton said. "The changes that were needed to alleviate some of these hardships were not made, and they're still not being made."
"Some may feel like the Delta is something we don't need to concern ourselves about," Newton continued. "But so goes the Delta, so goes a lot of other parts of our state."
Infrastructure and workforce will continue to be the top areas that need improvement throughout the Delta region, she said.
"There's no better way to get things started in the Delta than by increasing infrastructure," Newton explained. "Louisiana has lost millions upon millions of dollars of revenue by us not having a north/south corridor on the eastern side of the state.
"The opportunity for economic growth would be tremendous. Nothing has been done to expand and promote the I-20 corridor. We are missing such an amazing opportunity.
"We talk about the mega-site, and pushing that mega-site in Richland Parish … that's 1,500 acres of farmland. How do you market a mega-site without proper infrastructure and a workforce."
She said Mississippi has landed auto manufacturers and other industrial giants because Mississippi made a cooperative effort to improve infrastructure and prepare its workforce for those types of jobs.
"They still have their problems," Newton said of Mississippi. "We always laugh at them and call them the saddest state in the country, but they are doing well and their economy is thriving."
The Delta region also must take steps to keep its young workers and attract others.
That must be done by providing the quality of life, which the younger generation wants, Newton said. Communities must invest in providing venues such as musical entertainment, bike trails, quality bookstores, cafes and other entertainment and recreational offerings to attract the younger population.
"Those are the things we have to concentrate on to keep our kids here and bring kids back," Newton said. "These things bring people to a community. We have to help these communities find a niche for growth.
"For so many years in our area, we've just said, 'That's not going to work. It's never worked before.' Well, we have to start somewhere.
"I'm proud to say as a chamber, we're starting to work in that direction. We're finding those successes, which may be small, and quick successes, but they can have a long-term change on the economy and the environment in this area."
One of those projects is the recent collaborative effort among the West Monroe chamber, city of West Monroe, Ouachita Parish Schools and the University of Louisiana-Monroe. The project entails helping teachers, law enforcement officers and others better communicate with children from impoverished backgrounds.
The initiative began in August.
The chamber, the university and the parish school system developed a plan to address the various issues impoverished children face daily. They devised a plan to give teachers a better understanding of a child's life and to show them how to best help impoverished children.
Teachers in the Ouachita Parish School System must participate in a graduate-level course at ULM based on the book, "A Framework to Understanding Poverty," by Dr. Ruby Payne.
All incoming, new teachers at Ouachita Parish Schools are required to take the course as part of their induction. The system will pay each teacher's $250 tuition to take the class.