..LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The head of the Delta Regional Authority on Monday urged communities to work together to find ways to improve the economy of a region that lags so much behind the rest of the country that it's viewed as a "poor nation within a nation."
"Gone are the days when, outside of college football, Arkansas could view Louisiana as its competitor and opponent," Delta Regional Authority Chairman Chris Masingill told a crowd of more than 500 people at the authority's policy conference in downtown Little Rock. "Instead, we need to maximize regional partnerships to compete against China and India, and even against Seattle and Boston and Chicago."
Created by Congress in 2000, the agency provides economic development programs in 252 counties and parishes in parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.
Masingill said the authority is increasingly focusing on regionalism and is shunning funding projects that don't focus on partnerships within the Delta region.
"You will not get a project eligible if it is a project that is going to benefit only one community," Masingill said. "That is a project that will not get funded."
The economic downturn the country is facing mirrors the woes that the Delta region — an area that stretches from Louisiana to parts of southern Illinois — has suffered for generations, Masingill said.
"I think we are a poor nation within a nation," Masingill said. "It's not right politically, it's not right economically and sometimes it's not right morally. We can do better and we will."
Citing the loss of manufacturing jobs in the region, Masingill said the authority has a chance to boost the Delta's economy by focusing more on entrepreneurs and small businesses. The authority recently announced a new partnership with a micro-lender to help provide loans to small businesses in the region.
"I'm calling on all of us to see these challenges of a shrinking manufacturing sector as an opportunity, an opportunity for the Delta to reinvent itself and overcome these global and historical changes to become stronger than it's ever been," he said.