The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

Executive Summary of Series on Delta Regional Planning

Posted on July 06, 2009 at 09:44 PM

To give a condensed version of the in-depth series the Delta Grassroots Caucus recently posted on regional strategic planning in the Delta, we provide this executive summary. For the detailed messages that are, in turn, summaries of the 135-page Delta Regional Authority report strategic plan completed in June, 2008, the Arkansas strategic plan completed in February, 2009, and other economic development documents, click on “Caucus articles,” with the title of each article cited below.

I. Positive contributions of the DRA in strategic planning (The article is “Regional Strategic Planning & DRA Budget Update–First in a Series of Messages,” June 23, 2009)

1) Excellent strategic plans in transportation and information technology: The first message basically summarized the positive strategic planning that the DRA has done in recent years. We found that the transportation strategic plan (the Delta Development Highway System plan) as well as the information technology plan contained a great deal of useful information and recommendations about how to make progress on those two issues. The transportation plan already has been and will continue to be very useful as we advocate for completion of Interstate 69 Corridor and many other transportation improvements in this year’s highway bill, and the information technology plan is helpful in promoting greater access to the information highway in the Delta, and we all know that is crucial to the Delta’s future.

We should also remember that the DRA is a federal-state partnership, and the third in the series singles out the Arkansas plan of February, 2009 as an excellent model for strategic planning.

2) The June, 2008 Delta regional stratetic plan has several positive contributions:

One of the major pluses of this plan is to give credit where it is due and to acknowledge a number of the accomplishments and good models for development. There is allways merit in recognizing “what works” and what doesn’t:.

a. The DRA federal grant progra is highly successful, having brought jobs and job training, infrastructure and other benefits to the region–summary of the data is in the June 23 message;

b. The Healthy Delta Initiative, a constructive diabetes and obesity and other health issues project;

c. The Delta Doctors Program, which brought more than 104 doctors to the region that would not otherwise be there;

d. The plan also is a major improvement on the 2002 strategic plan, which contained hopelessly unrealistic goals about regional major economic indicators that were obviously beyond the scope of one small agency to bring about. In contrast, the 2008 plan has a realistic set of specific goals regarding jobs created or retained, job training, infrastructure and other down-to-earth goals. This recognizes that the DRA is one agency that does significant work, but is vastly smaller than USDA, DOT, HHS, Education and the other large-scale federal and state government programs.

3) Good statement of general policy, which indicates that DRA funding decisions should be based on trying to create the “critical mass” level needed to sustain economic development, and that funding will be open for all communities regardless of size or wealth (page 9, “Rethinking the Delta,” June, 2008 Delta regional strategic plan):

“The federal grant program will remain open to all communities in the Delta, regardless of size or wealth. The purpose is not to reward those communities that have already achieved critical mass; rather, it is to provide an investment strategy for those Delta communities that have not.”

II. “Constructive Criticism of DRA Regional Strategic Planning–Second in a Series,” June 25, 2009 article

1) Additional pluses of the 2008 regional strategic plan: This document continued to note several areas where the DRA correctly recognizes that traditional narrow definitions of economic development work. Education and developing a skilled, workforce should not be compartmentalized into a category separate from economic development. Above we noted their correct decision that health care was an important economic engine.

They also presented a helpful section on the reality that we have a high percentage of senior citizens in the Delta, and we should see them as a large pool of talent, experience, expertise, in many ways that could be helpful to the economy.

2) Disagreements with certain sections of the plan. Parts of the plan contain too much esoteric jargon that would be useful only to an economist or a technocrat; there is an inappropriate comparison of the Delta to the Great Northern Plains region in Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas, noting their higher educational attainments and income, innovate cities. The Delta has a far different history, is far more diverse than the region around Iowa and the north, and this comparison was inappropriate and not helpful, to put it diplomatically.

3) Appendix A contains some vague generalizations that are inconsistent with the basic thrust of the majority of the report, noting the increasing “urbanization” in the Delta and that the DRA needs to adapt its programs to serve the needs of “metropolitan areas” in the Delta. This is inconsistent with the many other sections of the report that correctly describe the region as “predominantly rural.”

There is a very weak comment in Appendix A (page 55):

“Characteristic #9: Total establishment employment

The model revealed that job growth over the past 20 years was faster in larger population counties than in small ones. This correlation reflects a long-term, worldwide trend of urbanization. The implication for the DRA is that an increasing proportion of the population it serves lives in metropolitan areas. In response, the Authority must adapt its programs to be able to serve the needs of this population. While not abandoning its rural areas, the DRA can not ignore the growing influence of larger communities.”

Of course, nobody said we should ignore the influence of “larger communities” (and notice that there is no definition of what they consider to be a “larger community.”). The comment that the DRA needs to adapt its programs to serve the needs of the population that lives in “metropolitan areas” is a very strange comment for a region that this report elsewhere frequently describes as “predominantly rural.”

III. Arkansas Strategic Plan of 2009 Is an Excellent Example of Regional Planning,” July 1, 2009 article: Strategic plan of Arkansas is inclusive and down to earth–compiled including all levels appropriately–federal, state and local; and it contains useful information on how to apply for DRA funding.

The Arkansas plan included feedback from the Arkansas Congressional delegation, several universities, state economic development officials, DRA staff, as well as local officials. The plan contains down-to-earth descriptions regarding the basic characteristics of the critical mass needed to sustain economic development: healthy people, an expanding population, a skilled workforce, a multi-cultural society responsive to contributions of foreign-born people, new companies moving into the area, an entrepreneurial culture, and a community-wide culture of learning.

There is no use of esoteric jargon in this plan. It makes clear that the purpose is to promote the development of critical mass in all Delta communities. It makes clear that the priorities for Gov. Beebe in DRA funding in Arkansas are economic and business development, regional impact, collaborative funding, and critical needs funding.

There are no statements in the Arkansas plan discussing the need to adapt the DRA’s programs to serve the needs of “metropolitan areas” in the Delta.

The Arkansas plan contains a broad array of constructive economic development initiatives on renewable energy, developing a knowledge-based workforce, information technology, infrastructure, and other key economic issues for the region. Details are in the July 1 message on the website at

All in all, we would give such reports as transportation, information technology and the Arkansas state plan an A. The regional strategic plan of June, 2008 would not be an A, but averaged all together, all four of these plans still align with each other for the most part, and together would still wind up as about an A-/B+. We just respectfully suggest that future reports should not have some of the flaws of the appendices in the 2008 strategic plan.

We will continue to promote debate about regional strategic planning for the economic development of the Delta. Thanks very much–Lee Powell, MDGC (202) 360-6347