Delta Regional Authority
January 19, 2021  
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Delta News Round-up

A Message from the Federal Co-Chairman | DRA announces Delta Leadership Institute 2021 Fellows | Save the Date for the Delta Summit 2021

A Message from the Federal Co-Chairman

As we begin a new year, I find myself reflecting back on my time as Delta Regional Authority Federal Co-Chairman and the agency’s many accomplishments since I first assumed the role in January 2018. It has been my utmost privilege and distinct honor to lead DRA and serve the 10 million residents who call its region home.

In these last three years, my greatest priority and responsibility has been ensuring the agency responds to this call to action by placing strategic investments where they are needed most and will have the greatest impact. Through our flagship grant programs, DRA has invested more than $73 million into 271 locally driven and regionally significant projects over the past three years. These investments have created and retained more than 18,650 jobs, trained nearly 38,000 individuals for high quality careers, and impacted approximately 267,450 families who now have improved water and sewer services.

As I have traveled throughout our eight-state region, I have experienced firsthand the impact of DRA investments. In Livingston, Alabama, DRA invested $509,000 into the University of West Alabama to upgrade and extend the water and sewer system at the Port of Epes Industrial Park, which will support Enviva – the largest wood pellet producer in the country – creating 85 jobs. In the Missouri Bootheel, DRA invested $1 million into the Southeast Missouri Electric Cooperative of Sikeston and Pemiscot-Dunklin Electric Cooperative to build a fiber network that will deliver broadband services to an eight-county region, reaching more than 11,000 residents. In Little Rock, Arkansas, DRA invested $2 million into the Little Rock Port Authority to improve the main access road leading into the industrial park which will be home to Amazon’s first fulfillment center in Arkansas and is projected to create over 1,000 jobs.

Beyond the investments we have made, I am most proud of the innovative partnerships we have cultivated to maximize our impact and our reach. 

Upon its creation by Executive Order in 2018, I was invited to serve on the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council (WHORC) alongside the secretaries of executive branch agencies and my counterparts at the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and Northern Border Regional Commission.   WHORC was created to leverage existing federal programs and resources with strategic investments in federally designated Opportunity Zones (OZs). As a result, DRA has invested $8.4 million into 35 projects in OZs to spur economic development and accelerate revitalization efforts in some of the Delta’s most economically distressed communities.     

In 2018, DRA partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration and ARC to launch the Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities (WORC) initiative, which is a grant program designed to meet the unique workforce development challenges of rural and economically distressed communities in the Delta and Appalachian regions. Over the last two years, nearly $30 million has been invested in 21 industry-driven workforce training programs in all eight DRA states.  These programs are projected to train nearly 10,000 individuals, ultimately giving them the opportunity to live, work, and thrive in the Delta region.    

One of my highest priorities since taking this office has been to invest in industry-driven workforce development projects. Not only does this ensure we are training Delta residents with the skills they need to access sustainable career paths, but it also ensures that we are addressing the skills gap for our region’s employers so they can continue to grow and expand with the global economy. To complement the WORC initiative and better address the needs of small and rural organizations facilitating industry-specific workforce training, DRA established the Delta Workforce Grant Program (DWP).  In the past two year, DWP has invested more than $3.1 million into 24 programs and initiatives.   

In Water Valley, Mississippi, DRA invested in Base Camp Coding Academy, a non-profit organization that trains recent high school graduates to become software developers in 12 months. The majority of these teenagers come from financially burdened families, but upon graduation from Base Camp, they are accepting jobs with salaries well above the median household income at companies like FedEx and C Spire.

In Pocahontas, Arkansas, DRA invested in Black River Technical College to design a 4-week commercial driver’s license training program to meet the needs of local and regional companies, such as Walmart, that are projected to create more than 2,600 jobs in the state over the next two years. 

These types of programs will transform the lives of Delta residents and strengthen our region’s economy, but we must remember that economic development is a multi-faceted field which transcends programs and initiatives supporting job creation and workforce training. Addressing the unique needs of the Delta region requires a comprehensive approach, which is why DRA also administers programs that impact the health and well-being of its residents. 

As a result of DRA’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), 21 rural hospitals and health clinics have received intensive technical assistance.  Since 2018, $28 million has been appropriated through the Delta Region Community Health Systems Development Program to improve financial operations, expand telehealth services, and enhance workforce recruitment and retention strategies of these 21 rural hospitals, and I anticipate the announcement of more hospitals added to this technical assistance program in the coming weeks.

Additionally, DRA has continued and expanded its longstanding partnership with the. U.S. Department of Defense to host Innovative Readiness Training medical missions. Since 2018, the U.S. Military’s reserve forces have treated 4,600 patients at DRA-sponsored IRT medical missions, contributing more than $1 million in medical services provided to participating Delta communities at no cost to them.

Finally, I am proud of the improvements we have made to the Delta Leadership Institute (DLI) Executive Academy. In partnership with Arkansas State University’s Delta Center for Economic Development, the University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business and the University of Louisiana Monroe, DRA has built a robust executive leadership development program which has trained more than 90 leaders from diverse backgrounds, sectors, and industries since 2018. As a result of their participation in DLI, these leaders are prepared to go back to their communities armed with the skills and knowledge needed to improve the economic competitiveness and social viability of the region. Upon the graduation of our 15th Executive Academy class last year, DRA’s Delta Leadership Network – the alumni group for all DLI graduates – now boasts more than 600 leaders from all eight DRA states. 

Most importantly, I am proud of the DRA staff and their dedication to carrying out our agency’s mission. Together, we have made tremendous progress by carrying out these critical investments to strengthen the human and physical infrastructure of the Delta region so our communities can compete now and in the future economy.

In looking back on the past year, I am awed by the resiliency of the American people. In looking forward, I know our best days are ahead of us.


Chris Caldwell

Federal Co-Chairman

DRA Announces the 2021 Fellows for the Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy

The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) is proud to announce the fellows of the 2021 Delta Leadership Institute (DLI) Executive Academy.  DLI is an extensive, nine-month executive leadership program that brings together public, private, and nonprofit sector leaders from DRA’s eight-state region.  The 2021 DLI class will consist of 29 fellows from all eight DRA states.

The leadership program empowers fellows with the tools, experiences, and networks needed to address local and regional challenges.  Sessions led by local, regional, and national experts cover policy areas such as infrastructure and transportation, small business and entrepreneurship, workforce development, public health, and other fields necessary to facilitate economic growth in the Delta.  As a result, DLI fellows graduate with improved decision-making skills, policy development know-how, strengthened leadership capacity, and a mutual understanding of regional, state, and local cultures and issues.

“To enact change, you need strong leaders with bold yet thoughtful ideas to move the needle in the right direction,” said DRA Federal Co-Chairman Chris Caldwell.  “The three fellows selected for the 2021 Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy are already leaders within their communities.  With the knowledge and skill sets gained through DLI, they will evolve to become the change agents needed to address the most pressing issues facing the Black Belt.”

The 2021 DLI fellows are:

  • Chris Beeker, Tuscaloosa, AL | State Director/Alabama, USDA Rural Development

  • Christina Berry, Brandon, MS | Corporate Foundations Relations Office, Jackson State University; Owner/Urban District Planners

  • Sally Burbridge, Salem, MO | Economic Development Director, City of Salem 

  • Dr. Rhonda Butler, Ville Platte, LA | State Representative, Louisiana House of Representatives; Owner, Butler and Co. Tree & Storm Recovery 

  • Becca Caldwell, Little Rock, AR | Grants Manager, Rural Services Division, Arkansas Economic Development Commission 

  • John Campbell, Madison, MS | State Director/Mississippi, USDA Rural Development

  • Brad Clark, Boaz, KY | Financial Advisor, Edward Jones

  • Brooke Coffey, Hickman, KY | Community Relations Director, Obion County Joint Economic Development Corporation

  • Will Coppage, Greenville, MS | Executive Director, Washington County Economic Alliance

  • Kimberly Davis, Little Rock, AR | Director of Constituent Services, Office of the Governor

  • Jonathan Douglass, Sikeston, MO | City Manager, City of Sikeston

  • Friday Ellis, Monroe, LA | Mayor, City of Monroe

  • Kaia Greene, Birmingham, AL | Project Manager, The University of Alabama at Birmingham

  • Tammy Hall, Dyersburg, TN | Vice President, Dyersburg/Dyer County Chamber of Commerce

  • Raushanah Hunter, Baton Rouge, LA | Development Director, City Year Baton Rouge

  • Tamika Jenkins, Blytheville, AR | Vice President, Mississippi County, AR Economic Development

  • Marcus Johnson, Jackson, MS | Employee Experience Manager, C Spire

  • Lauren Kirk, Jackson, TN | Director of Performance Management, City of Jackson

  • Rachel Langley-Hayes, Crossett, AR | Field Representative and Constituent Services Representative, U.S. Congressman Bruce Westerman

  • Allie Lee, Baton Rouge, LA | Digital Strategist, Office of the Louisiana Lt. Governor

  • Darci Malam, Bucyrus, MO | Economic Development Specialist/Revolving Loan Fund Manager, South Central Ozark Council of Governments

  • Dr. Kyle Miller, Helena, AR | Museum Director, Delta Cultural Center

  • Sarah Mills, Prattville, AL | Regional Workforce Council Liaison, Alabama Department of Commerce – AIDT

  • Clint O’Neal, Conway, AR | Executive Vice President, Global Business, Arkansas Economic Development Commission

  • Rebeca Pacheco, Van Buren, MO | Executive Director, Butler County Community Resource Council

  • Angela Rowe, Harrisburg, IL | Owner and Designer, Decorating Den Interiors

  • Hellena Shorty, Carbondale, IL | Senate Aide, Office of U.S. Senator Richard Durbin

  • Catina Stark, Covington, TN | Supervisor, Wright Medical

  • Ronnie White, Red Bud, IL | Commissioner, Randolph County Board of Commissioners

Since 2005, the DLI Executive Academy has provided leadership development to more than 500 community leaders from diverse backgrounds, sectors, and industries to strengthen skills development, information sharing, regional collaboration, and improve the economic competitiveness and social viability of the Mississippi River Delta and Alabama Black Belt regions.  After graduation, DLI fellows will become members of the Delta Leadership Network, which provides peer-to-peer engagement opportunities for continued leadership development, information sharing, and collaboration with other leaders dedicated to the future of the Delta region.

DLI is a program of DRA in partnership with three institutions of higher education in the Delta region:  Arkansas State University, the University of Louisiana Monroe, and the University of Arkansas.

Upcoming Events:

January 26, 2021 - January 28, 2021
Delta Leadership Institute 2021 Executive Academy Orientation

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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