Delta Regional Authority
August 06, 2020  
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Delta News Round-up

A Message from the Federal Co-Chairman | DRA Announces $2 Million Investment in Transportation Infrastructure Improvements | Missouri Rural Water Association Apprenticeship Program | “Why Apply to the Delta Leadership Institute?”

Resilience Through Uncertainty: Regional Partnerships Continue Investments in Targeted Workforce Training

By Chris Caldwell, Federal Co-Chairman, Delta Regional Authority

Over the past few months, I can’t help but be re-inspired by the resilience of the American spirit and the resolve of the Delta’s residents. On the heels of what many economists considered “full employment”, the Covid-19 pandemic’s spread across the country and our communities has marked record high unemployment rates, safer-at-home orders, business closures, and a national conversation around a “new normal”. With a third of the Mississippi River Delta and Alabama Black Belt’s economies centered on employment sectors most heavily impacted by the pandemic, our region has realized a disproportionate share of the detrimental effect. However, I am most optimistic about the signs of our regional economy beginning to regroup and recover. 

Twenty years ago, the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) was established by Congress to address economic distress within the Mississippi River Delta Region and Alabama Black Belt by providing investments in basic public infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, workforce development, and small businesses with an emphasis in entrepreneurship. Since the beginning of my tenure at DRA, I have ensured economic development and skills development go hand in hand. Research has shown targeted workforce training programs provide benefits to local and regional economies eight times larger than associated costs of such programs. Evidenced by our ongoing partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities initiative and our own Delta Workforce Program, DRA has emphasized the importance of investing in human capital to advance the Delta’s economy.

Last year, I made a commitment to continue traveling across the Delta Region to speak with students, teachers, and business leaders from various sectors on the role of apprenticeships and workforce training programs in revitalizing the Delta economy. Eager to fulfill this commitment, this month I had the opportunity to visit a few of our partners continuing to provide much needed skills training and support services to our region’s workforce. I was awed by the progress of programs in which DRA has invested and in their ability to develop and deliver innovative training solutions through these unprecedented circumstances.

Accompanied by Senator John Boozman, I first visited Arkansas Northeastern College in Blytheville to discuss the University’s ADWORC initiative. Through ADWORC, ANC is delivering training and support services to 1,300 residents in a three-state, fourteen-county region. Under President Shemwell’s leadership, students are able to obtain industry-recognized certifications in less time and, as a result, be better positioned to take of advantage of employment opportunities in high-demand fields. 

In Hopkins County, Kentucky, Madisonville Community College provided me an opportunity to view their newly expanded workforce training centers. Taking advantage of opportunities from both DRA and the Department of Labor, MCC, in partnership with Henderson Community College, has prepared Western Kentucky to fully benefit from its strategic location along Interstate 69 and prevalence as a national leader in energy development. Through its partnerships with the private sector, MCC’s vision to align its CDL and lineman training programs have provided employers in a six-county region with access to a skilled and ready workforce.

In Caruthersville, Missouri, I met with city officials to discuss the dire need for experienced, well-trained water and wastewater professionals. With many of these skilled professionals reaching retirement age, DRA last year partnered with the Missouri Rural Water Association (MRWA) to expand an accredited apprenticeship program to meet this growing demand. DRA’s strategic investment in the MRWA expanded on-the-job training and work-based learning have better prepared southeast Missourians to take advantage of these career opportunities as well as ensure the long-term resilience of the Region’s critical infrastructure.

This trip reiterated the importance of local and regional public-private partnerships in realizing the long-term success of workforce investments and, ultimately, improving the competitiveness of our regional employers. Also, I’m reminded of the growing number of pathways available to Delta residents to achieve the skills needed to succeed in the changing economy.

As we move into a state of recovery, I cannot help but be optimistic about the Delta’s future. Even through this cloud of uncertainty, our local and regional institutions remain dedicated in their efforts to engage our business community and prepare our next generation workforce. Whether traditional four-year or technical education, industry-recognized apprenticeships, or on-the-job training, the Delta is well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities the resurging economy will make available. As a federal-state partnership established to promote the economic advancement of the Delta economy, I will continue to look for opportunities to support residents of the Delta Region to advance their knowledge base and skillsets and set the stage for the development of a more resilient Delta economy.

*note:  This op-ed was published on August 2, 2020 in The Southern Illinoisan and August 5, 2020 in The News Star (Monroe, LA).  Additional publication dates are expected in various newspapers throughout the region.

DRA Announces $2 Million Investment in Transportation Infrastructure Improvements at the Port of Little Rock

DRA Chairman Caldwell joined federal, state, and local officials in Little Rock to break ground on a transportation infrastructure project projected to bring over 1,500 jobs to the Port of Little Rock.  DRA invested $2 million to widen and improve Zeuber Road to meet heavy industrial standards in anticipation of new companies locating to the site.

“Today is a momentous occasion for the City of Little Rock, Pulaski County, and the Arkansas Delta region, where the union of federal, state, and local entities work to improve existing infrastructure and further develop an area that will attract new industries and create an economic impact felt far beyond the Port of Little Rock,” said Chairman Caldwell at the July 6th groundbreaking event.

Chairman Caldwell was joined at the groundbreaking by Senator John Boozman, Congressman French Hill, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr., Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, DRA Designee and Arkansas Economic Development Commission Executive Vice President of Global Business Clint O’Neal, Little Rock Regional Chamber Chairman Ronnie Dedman, and Port of Little Rock Chair Melissa Hendricks.

Delta Workforce Program Highlight: Missouri Rural Water Association Apprenticeship Program

Last month, Chairman Caldwell visited Caruthersville, MO to speak with the Missouri Rural Water Association (MRWA) staff and city officials about the Southeast Missouri Water/Wastewater Apprenticeship Program.  Staff from the offices of Senator Roy Blunt, Senator Josh Hawley, Congressman Jason Smith, and the Missouri Department of Economic Development also joined in the discussion and visit to the Caruthersville water treatment plant.

“The Southeast Missouri Water/Wastewater Apprenticeship Program is an excellent example of pairing industry need with workforce training to develop the next generation of skilled laborers,” said DRA Chairman Chris Caldwell.  “I was incredibly impressed with the apprentices I met on site and their eagerness to learn and show off their newly acquired skills.”

Howard Baker, MRWA Executive Director, said that the demand for skilled water facility operators continues to grow as many of the state’s current water facility operators near retirement age.  The program offers on-the-job training and related technical instruction while pairing experienced operators with apprentices to serve as mentors during the required certification coursework period.  MRWA Apprenticeship Coordinator Jim Enterline noted this is a unique workforce training program as students are paid employees from the start of the program, and wages increase as apprentices progress in their training.

“Why Apply to the Delta Leadership Institute?” DLI Class of 2018-2019 Graduate Ray Hagerman Answers

Ray Hagerman, President and CEO of the Madisonville-Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation and Delta Leadership Institute graduate (KY 2018-2019), recently shared his thoughts on the Delta Leadership Institute:  

"When I was thinking about applying to DLI, I wasn't sure what to expect, as I've been in local leadership programs in the past and my expectations weren't very high. Man, my mind was blown by the sessions, the activities, the sights and sounds, but mostly the people! I have made lifelong friendships from people in my class, and they are definitely the movers and shakers in the Delta Region. The best way to do better and heal the wounds of our society is to make friends with people from all walks of life. DLI is a life changing experience from that perspective as we are all tied together in the Delta. I am a better person for having been in DLI. Plus, I got to do things I would have never done! A Kentucky man riding an airboat in the Louisiana River Parishes! Who knew?" 

The application for the 2020-2021 Delta Leadership Institute (DLI) Executive Academy closes on August 18th.  Those interested can apply at

Upcoming Events:

August 18, 2020
DLI 2020-2021 Executive Academy application closes
September 22, 2020 - September 23, 2020
DLI Class of 2019-2020 Graduation Session

Click Here To Submit An Event

DRA Newsroom:

Delta Regional Authority

236 Sharkey Avenue - Suite 400
Clarksdale, MS 38614
(662) 624-8600 | DRA.GOV

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