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.

Thanks to Delta Grassroots Leaders; & 2nd in Series of Reports on Oct. 19-20 Delta Caucus

Posted on November 23, 2017 at 11:45 AM

This Thanksgiving we would like to express our great appreciation to all the grassroots leaders across the 8-state Greater Delta Region and our network in the Washington, DC area. Your effective advocacy and hard work for the region’s community and economic development will bring a brighter future for our region.

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For the second in our series of reports on the Oct. 19-20, 2017 Delta Caucus conference in Little Rock, we will summarize the presentations at the opening session, Oct. 19 at the Arkansas State Capitol Rotunda.

The two-day event as a whole featured Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Congressman Rick Crawford, Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton speaking on behalf of the philanthropic, nonpartisan work of the Clinton Foundation, Sen. John Boozman speaking by video on several key Delta issues, Congressman French Hill’s chief of staff, Delta Regional Authority Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Peter Kinder of Missouri, and grassroots advocates from across the 8-state region.

A total of 131 people attended parts or all of the two-day conference.

The report as a whole is lengthy, and we do not expect anyone to read it from beginning to end; rather, please look at the Table of Contents and scroll down to those sections you are most interested in.

In the next two weeks there will be summaries of the Oct. 20 Delta session at the Clinton Library.

We will give brief summaries of the presentations of each one of the speakers. At the opening session at the historic Rotunda of the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock.









We opened with a series of speakers on best practices in regional community and economic development, followed by a series of speakers on job creation and infrastructure:

Speakers who mostly focused on job creation and infrastructure improvements included:

–Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Peter Kinder of the Delta Regional Authority from Cape Girardeau, Missouri;

–City Manager Scott Meyer of Cape Girardeau, Missouri;

–Mayor Chuck Espy of Clarksdale, Mississipppi;

–State Senator Eddie Cheatham, southeast Arkansas;

–Mayor Shirley Washington, Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Best practices in community and economic development speakers included:

–Janelle Jenkins, Chief Operating Officer of KIPP Delta Public Schools in Helena-West Helena, Blytheville and Forrest City,

–Erica McFadden, SNAP coordinator for the Arkansas Food Bank (an affiliate of the national Feeding America network);

–Jennifer Johnson, Director of Public Policy for So uthern Bancorp Community Partners based in Madison, Mississippi;

–State Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock, Senior Director for USA Domestic Programs, Winrock International;

–Sally Heinz, CEO of the Memphis Metropolitan InterFaith Association, one of the major nonprofits in the Memphis, Tennessee area.


Peter Kinder is President Trump’s new appointee as Alternate Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, was given the largest amount of time at the opening session because this was our first opportunity to hear from him. This is one of the two Presidential appointees at the agency. Chris Caldwell of US Sen. John Boozman’s staff in Little Rock is the nominee for Federal Co-Chairman and is expected to be confirmed by the Senate fairly soon.

The Delta Caucus commended both of these leaders as excellent choices to head up the agency.

Peter Kinder is from the heart of the southeast Missouri Delta in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and his family has lived in the region for many generations. He expressed great appreciation for the opportunity to get to know many grassroots advocates from across the region at the Delta Caucus. He said he plans to tour the eight-state region.

Kinder spoke about the DRA’s role in promoting infrastructure and economic development projects in the Delta. He clearly demonstrated a deep dedication to his native region, at one point saying, “We will be the voice of those who are too often forgotten about.”

Cuts in DRA administrative expenses over $500,000: Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Kinder has already made a positive impact at the agency, having identified more than $500,000 in administrative expenses that can be cut out and used for productive development projects. This is excellent to keep administrative costs at a minimum.

Kinder has a distinguished resume as former Lt. Governor and state senator from Missouri, with a background in practicing law and in business. He was very warmly received by the group.

Director Lee Powell and other Delta Caucus senior partners called on all our partners across the eight states to contact their Members of Congress in support of the DRA’s budget.

President Trump had earlier called for eliminating the DRA, the Appalachian Regional Commission and other regional economic development agencies, but we have allies in all eight Delta states, Appalachia and other regions who are totally opposed to this proposal. We believe that these agencies are a useful supplement to the much larger scale federal departments like USDA, US DOT, Health and Human Services, Labor, Commerce, etc. and state government agencies. They have strong Congressional support and we have defeated efforts to eliminate them every time in the past and we plan to do so this time.

III. A note on the different roles of the DRA and the Delta Grassroots Caucus:

Since we have highlighted DRA Alternate Federal Co-Chairman Peter Kinder’s excellent presentation, we would like to emphasize that the Delta Caucus is a private sector, grassroots advocacy coalition and is completely independent of all government agencies, including the DRA. The senior leaders of the Delta Caucus have complete freedom of action to engage in lobbying for broad-minded causes for the good of the region as a whole.

DRA federal executive branch staff, like all federal executive staff, are prohibited from lobbying.

The Delta Caucus can engage in lobbying and other activities across the full spectrum of economic and community development policy. The DRA has a more restricted role based on its statutory mission to promote economic development in the Delta region. We support the DRA as an institution but it is one among many constructive programs that we support.

The Delta Caucus is incorporated as a regular corporation and does not have any lobbying restrictions like a 501c3 does. Nonprofits can engage in advocacy as much as they like, which is strictly providing factual information about major government programs. Lobbying is different, because it is defined as referring to a specific pending legislative or other governmental action, urging the Member of Congress or other official to support or oppose it, suggesting key Congressional committees to contact in favor of their position, and otherwise engaging in direct political action in the spirit of taking part in the democratic process.

Avoiding the kind of difficulty that Tea Party groups and other 501c4 organizations experienced from the IRS: We are also not incorporated as a 501c(4), to avoid the kinds of unfair pressures the IRS engaged in against Tea Party groups in the worst cases, and also there was some bias against a smaller number of 501c4 organizations that certain IRS officials deemed too “liberal.”

We believed even before these cases that some IRS officials are biased against certain nonprofit entities based on their philosophical point of view, and this is of course utterly inappropriate. We did not want to be looking over our shoulder at the IRS wondering if they would see any of our positions as “politically incorrect” as a nonprofit. Therefore we incorporated as a regular corporation (technically small business corporation, although of course no one at the Delta Caucus has any expectation of making any money from our work other than paying expenses) so as to be totally free of any unethical pressures from any IRS officials. To put it briefly, it’s impossible for the IRS to threaten to take away our tax-exempt status, because we do not have tax-exempt status in the first place.

We opposed the IRS’ bias against the Tea Party groups or anyone else based on their freedom of expression. We are glad to see that the IRS officials involved have been duly punished. However, we are still wary of potential bullying from the IRS, and want to maintain complete freedom of action from that agency as well as other government agencies. We are a private sector, grassroots volunteer group.

The Delta Caucus is very careful to only engage in lobbying occasionally for clearly meritorious, broad-based causes-such as maintaining USDA programs for nutrition, rural development and agriculture, or the smaller scale but still constructive DRA programs. Only Delta Caucus senior officials are directly responsible for taking these positions, and many of our nonprofit or other colleagues of course do not engage in lobbying.

This is an explanatory note because sometimes people mistakenly think we are directly affiliated with the DRA. We are a private sector grassroots coalition and they are a federal/state government agency. The two entities are separate and independent.


Peter Kinder was introduced by his friend and colleague SCOTT MEYER, CITY MANAGER OF CAPE GIRARDEAU, MISSOURI. Meyer has known Peter Kinder for many years and they have worked on constructive projects in their native city together. The City of Cape Girardeau and the DRA have worked on a number of successful economic development projects in Cape Girardeau, where the local economy has been moving in a positive direction in recent years.

City Manager Meyer echoed the feedback we have received from our long-time colleague Mike Marshall, Director of the Sikeston Regional Chamber of Commerce and the former DRA Alternate Federal Co-Chairman, that Peter Kinder has excellent professional credentials and has a deep commitment to the Delta region.

MAYOR SHIRLEY WASHINGTON OF PINE BLUFF, Arkansas gave a presentation about the dynamic recent efforts for downtown revitalization in her historic Delta community. Mayor Washington was a key leader in the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative, in which the city’s residents passed a local tax to fund efforts to improve the city’s community and economic development.

The Go Forward Pine Bluff revitalization projects will be moving forward because of Pine Bluff voters’ having approved a five-eighths sales tax increase, Estimates indicate that the tax is expected to generate approximately $31.5 million over seven years. They plan to raise another $19 ti $20 million from grants and gifts.

The project is a public-private partnership intended to improve the community through investments in education, quality of life, economic development and infrastructure.

The Delta Regional Authority awarded the City of Pine Bluff $1 million as part of the public-private partnership.

There are many initiatives involved in the Pine Bluff Go Forward initiative. Examples include a community garden at the former Davis Hospital site that is a partnership between the University of Arkansas Agriculture Extension Office’s Pia Woods and Mayor Washington.

Another example is the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville’s community design center for establishing a downtown master plan. The initiative held listening sessions to get feedback from Pine Bluff residents, and they are developing an extensive municipal master plan as part of the downtown revitalization effort.

Mayor Washington has received a great deal of positive feedback for her leadership on the downtown revitalization project, which by all accounts has this large and vital community headed in the right direction.

STATE SENATOR EDDIE CHEATHAM OF CROSSETT, ARKANSAS, represents a big part of the heart of the southeast Arkansas Delta and has the largest geographical district in Arkansas. Sen. Cheatham emphasized the need for transportation and other infrastructure improvements in the Delta, including progress on completing the Interstate 69 Corridor.

Sen. Cheatham urged all the grassroots advocates to continue contacting their Congressional and state officials and press for investments in I-69, which is not just a regional but a national transportation artery, extending from Canada to Mexico. I-69 would go through five of the Delta states, including Louisiana, southeast Arkansas in Sen. Cheatham’s district, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky.

I-69 would be a major spur for job creation and long-term infrastructure improvements in an economically distressed region that is greatly in need of support. President Trump and Congress have talked a lot about a major infrastructure investment program, but we need to encourage them to act on it and not just talk.

The Delta Caucus gave credit to Sen. Cheatham, Rep. Warwick Sabin, Sen. Joyce Elliott of Little Rock, Rep. Monte Hodges of Blytheville, and Rep. Chris Richey of Helena-West Helena for having voted for the Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program that has led to about 300,000 Arkansans having health insurance that did not have it before. All of them took part in the conference.

Sen. Cheatham also endorsed the bipartisan program of Sen. Elliott and Republican Sen. Hendren to create a race relations caucus in the Arkansas legislature to have a candid dialogue about what can be done to improve the state of race relations and combat racism. That subject was addressed in detail at the Oct. 20 Friday luncheon with Sen. Elliott and will be addressed in an upcoming report in this series of updates about the conference.

MAYOR CHICK ESPY OF CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI Leads one of the heartland, historic communities in the Delta region. He is a member of the famous political Espy family in Mississippi, including his uncle Mike Espy, who was a Member of Congress and then served as President Bill Clinton’s first Secretary of USDA. Mayor Espy relayed Secretary Espy’s appreciation for the ongoing advocacy work of the Delta Caucus.

Mayor Espy gave a remarkably candid statement about his long service in the Mississippi state legislature, saying that while he had had some success there, he was also disappointed in not bringing about as much progress as he had hoped for. Therefore, he decided to pursue a different career path as Mayor of Clarksdale, where he has put his expertise in the field of job creation to excellent use already, having attracted a large number of job creation projects into his community as Mayor despite this only being his first year of service at Clarksdale City Hall.

Mayor Espy also joined Sen. Cheatham in urging all our partners to persevere in advocating for progress in completing the I-69 Corridor. As another example of the many areas across the region that would benefit from completing this major transportation artery, I-69 when completed will pass through the Clarksdale area and spur economic development and infrastructure there.

IV. Best practices/role models in community and economic development:

ERICA MCFADDEN, SNAP COORDINATOR FOR ARKANSAS FOOD BANK, emphasized the great importance of the SNAP nutrition program and the disturbing consequences if massive funding cuts are passed. The Arkansas Food Bank is part of the national Feeding America network of food banks.

SNAP is a proven success story that promotes nutrition for many people across the country. This is especially important for Delta states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky that unfortunately rank at the bottom of our country

Ms. McFadden emphasized a series of key points and data about the value of SNAP:

*SNAP provides 10 times the amount of food that food banks are able to provide; (source is Feeding America)

*In Arkansas, last year, SNAP provided food assistance to approximately 426,100 Arkansans and of those who received assistance, 63% were children, seniors, and disabled (source is Feeding America)

*In Arkansas just 1 SNAP application is the equivalent to 1,008 meals in our community, according to Feeding America

*SNAP is a critical partner that helps the Arkansas Foodbank in the fight against hunger providing another source of food to the 280,000 clients we serve.

  • SNAP Supports nutrition and access to fruits and vegetables for low income families.

*Research shows that children who receive SNAP do better in school.

*SNAP helps our farmers: There are now nearly 7,000 farmers markets in America that accept SNAP (Source: USDA).

The impact of proposed SNAP cuts:

*For people in poverty who don’t know where their next meal is going to come from - there is nothing left to cut back without SNAP.

*SNAP supports the whole U.S. food chain - from farmers and ranchers, to local retailers and manufacturers, to people who struggle to feed their families. Cuts to SNAP means less money generated in the food chain causing farmers, retailers and manufactures to look somewhere else for economic activity.

*In Arkansas, the proposed budget would require Arkansas to pay an average of 25 % of its SNAP benefit costs annually.

*SNAP relieves pressure on overwhelmed food banks, pantries, religious congregations, and to other emergency food providers across the country - cuts to SNAP would mean added pressure to already overwhelmed food providers like the food bank.

SNAP has made great strides in its efficiency. Waste and abuse has been reduced to about 1%, much less than the approximate 4% level as of the early 1990s. Any waste, of course, should be eliminated, but USDA is vigilant in doing everything possible to make the program efficient.

JENNIFER JOHNSON IS DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC POLICY FOR SOUTHERN BANCORP COMMUNITY PARTNERS, which is active across Arkansas and Mississippi. She is based in Madison, Mississippi.

Overview - Founded 30 years ago with an initial investment of $10M, and a mission to create economic opportunity, Southern Bancorp, Inc., along with its development partners - Southern Bancorp Bank and Southern Bancorp Community Partners, has grown to become one of the largest community development organizations in the United States. It is a model for an entire industry of mission-focused financial institutions known as Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs.

Today, Southern Bancorp is a $1.2 billion asset organization with over 80,000 customers and 46 locations primarily in underserved markets in Mississippi and Arkansas.

Mission - Southern and it partners believe that net worth drives economic opportunity for people and communities, and we invest in rural towns, under-capitalized communities, and people’s dreams. They believe wealth building is not just for the wealthy, and so they strive to be wealth builders for the entire population.

Policy Focus

  • Southern’s priorities include removing barriers to savings, eliminating predatory lending; incentivizing savings - IDA Match (private tax benefit), CSAs (private tax benefit); promoting State Earned Icome Tax Credit; and promoting 5 components of Healthy Savings Family (college/skills training, homeownership, emergency savings, debt reduction, budget)

Impact Opportunity - Some brief facts and figures on the impact of a number of Southern’s important programs: Asset Limits: MS - 385, 157 Households; AR - 289,460; Predatory Lending - Saves Arkansans at least $25M annually; IDA Homeownership: MS - 49,403; AR - 28,003; State EITC: MS - 388,000 Households; AR - 312,000 Households.

Southern’s leadership in calling for State Earned Income Tax Credit in Arkansas and Mississippi.

The Delta Caucus would like to commend Jennifer Johnson, Darrin Williams and Southern Bancorp in general for their thoughtful leadership in favor of state EITCs for Arkansas and Mississippi.

The federal EITC is a clear success story that has earned praise from both parties; for example, President Ronald Reagan said the federal EITC is “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.”

The state EITC in 26 states help offset some of the regressive nature of state taxes that cause low and moderate income families to pay a larger percentage of their incomes in taxes as compared to high-income taxpayers.

A requirement of EITC is that you have to work to get it, and thus the program encourages work, supplements working families’ resources, helps fill gaps in the federal EITC, and reduces state tax burdens for low-income families.

Based on research by Southern Bancorp and many other prestigious organizations across the Delta, there would be many benefits to the economy in Arkansas and Mississippi if they would adopt a state EITC.

In Mississippi, the federal EITC in recent years has placed about $1.1 billion annually to about one third (34% or 388,000) of Mississippi federal income tax filers. A state EITC for Mississippi set at 10% of the federal credit would further stimulate the economy by bringing in over $100 million as working families spend their earnings on necessities at local businesses in Mississippi.

In Arkansas, 312,000 households could benefit from a state EITC.

The average federal tax credit in Arkansas was about $2,600. If Arkansas passed a state EITC it would add $130 to each tax credit.

Arkansas, Mississippi and the other Delta states have many of the worst poverty levels in America. Please contact your state legislators and governors in Arkansas and Mississippi and urge them to create a state EITC to help working families in our region.


· Ms. Jenkins said the mission of KIPP Delta Public Schools is to create and support schools that empower students from underserved communities to develop the knowledge, skills, and character traits necessary to pursue a college education and a life of value, joy, and integrity. ·
Students’ Success: Founding Class:

· In 2002, KIPP Delta opened in Helena with one school serving 65 fifth graders. Almost 90 percent of the students qualified for the federal free or reduced lunch program, and more than 95 percent were African-American.

· Baseline testing for the inaugural class revealed that the KIPP Delta students scored at the 17th percentile in language arts and the 18th percentile in math on the Stanford norm-referenced tests.

· In 2006, as eighth-graders, the students outperformed every public school in Eastern Arkansas in reading, math and language on the state mandated norm-referenced ITBS tests in the spring of 2006.

· In 2010, as seniors their ACT average score beat the national and state average for high schools of similar sizes.

Our Most recent classes: · The class of 2017 - our first Ivy League acceptance -University of Pennsylvania scholarship. For the class of 2018–students are already receiving early college admittance letters.

In addition to their 9th class of seniors in Helena, we are welcoming our first senior class in the Blytheville community.

The Helena-West Helena KIPP school began in 2002 and now has about 1,000 students.

Blytheville KIPP school began in 2010 and now has about 300 students.

Forrest City KIPP school is now entering its third year and has about 100 students.

There are now about 1,400 students enrolled in the KIPP schools in the Arkansas Delta.

What KIPP did to make this success happen: Focus on Literacy, College, and Field Lessons

· They focus on literacy - in chants, read baby read, in action - testing and supports, and communicate children’s reading level to parents on a regular basis. They provide regional support to assist teachers with teaching literacy

· Field lessons - students, through a culture of earning, experience field lessons at colleges, museums, and other cultural sites to stretch their minds and exposure to sites in the US and abroad

· Long-range planning focuses on efforts to and through college

o Invest students in college early - our kindergarteners have college savings accounts

o Field lessons to college campuses in middle and high school

o Support with college applications and loan forms

o Scholarship applications

o Counseling services while in college

· KIPP’s culture makes sure that students know that character matters consistently

In addition to the impact that KIPP is having on students, they also have a beneficial impact on the community: For our staff, we are working to create teacher pathways that allow our instructional aides to gain the two and four year degrees needed to become teachers ·


MIFA was founded in 1968 in an unprecedented cooperative effort uniting church and community leaders to confront the growing issues of poverty, hunger, and social division in Memphis. Created in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, MIFA began as a volunteer-driven advocacy agency and has since evolved into a broad-based, professional, social service nonprofit with a focused mission: MIFA supports the independence of vulnerable seniors and families in crisis through high-impact programs. Their programs for seniors are designed to promote independence, health, companionship, and dignity; while our family programs provide basic services to prevent homelessness, stabilize families, and encourage independence.

Programs MS. Heinz emphasized that MIFA’s senior programs focus on helping the clients remain independent-home-delivered meals, free transportation to doctors’ appointments and congregate meal sites, and companionship allow them to continue living in their homes, while advocacy continues to support them when they move to care homes.

In FY17:

  • MIFA Meals on Wheels served 554,162 meals to 3,784 seniors; of those clients, 1,191 received home-delivered meals, 1,292 were served at congregate sites, and 1,323 were served through the No Hungry Senior initiative.

  • Transit drivers took 664 seniors on 25,358 trips to doctors’ offices, nutrition sites, and other essential destinations.

  • The Senior Companion program’s 73 volunteers logged 68,274 hours while serving 90 clients.

  • The Long-Term Care Ombudsman program’s 64 volunteers completed 1,673 volunteer hours while providing advocacy for the care and dignity of 4,585 seniors living in care homes.

MIFA’s family programs provide basic services to prevent homelessness, stabilize families, and encourage independence. These programs offer a spectrum of personalized interventions designed to address the vulnerabilities that could lead an individual or family to homelessness-interventions ranging from food vouchers to utility assistance to assistance with shelter or permanent supportive housing.

In FY17:

  • Of the 10,470 requests for assistance for MIFA’s Emergency Services program received in FY17, we were able to help 3,524 families with utility, rent, and mortgage assistance. We also distributed 11,131 food vouchers.

  • Emergency Shelter Placement screened 1,683 families representing 1,844 adults and 3,909 children; of those, we were able to serve 176 families through mediation and refer 495 to shelters.

  • The Rapid Rehousing program connected 252 families representing 281 adults and 647 children with permanent, stable housing.

  • The 24-hour Homeless Hotline screened 5,746 calls representing 5,612 adults and 8,336 children.

Collaboration MIFA works with a number of area agencies to avoid duplication of services and to ensure that our clients have the best resources available to meet their needs. They work closely with Community Alliance for the Homeless for our homelessness prevention programs; they are active members of the Safety Net Collaborative; they partner with Aging Commission of the Mid-South to provide senior services; they have been in partnership with MLGW for more than 30 years providing utility assistance through the Plus-1 program; they employ workers from Meritan; the City of Memphis regularly refers clients to MIFA for assistance and recently asked us to take over its 24-hour Homeless Hotline; and our emergency assistance programs work within an extensive network of community resources to provide referrals.

MIFA was created from collaboration in 1968, and these partnerships and cooperative efforts within the community are still central to their work.

MIFA organization’s director of program performance, Ellen Whitten, is integral to the continuous evaluation and improvement of our programs. She reports to the chief operating officer and assists in program evaluation practices, effective program design, and efficient administrative processes.

Specifically, she has designed data collection processes, created methods for tracking program participation, administered surveys to clients, and completed analyses of various types of data. Assessing these items on an ongoing basis allows us to make changes as we go, so our programs are continually improving and adapting to the community’s changing needs.

Sustainability MIFA has earned recognition across the Delta region for efficiently and responsibly leveraging public funding with private donations, which they are able to do largely because of their reputation and impact. They receive annual support from more than 2,000 unique donors, including individuals, corporations, congregations and other faith groups, and foundations, in addition to contributions of time from more than 1,400 volunteers.

MIFA will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018-a milestone which would have been impossible without generous community support over the years.


Rep. Warwick Sabin was wearing two hats at the conference, as Senior Director of Domestic USA Programs for Winrock International, a major national and international nonprofit, and as state representative from Little Rock.

The Delta Caucus would like to express our appreciation to Rep. Sabin for his constructive leadership on a range of initiatives for Arkansas and the Delta region:

He was a stalwart supporter of the Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program in Arkansas, which has resulted in approximately 300,000 Arkansans gaining health insurance in the state, many of them in the east Arkansas Delta. The program began under Gov. Mike Beebe and passed in its original versions on a couple of occasions by a margin of only one vote.

Rep. Sabin is a strong supporter of a state Earned Income Tax Credit for Arkansas, as explained in the section on Jennifer Johnson’s presentation for Southern Bancorp.

He supported the efforts of Sen. Joyce Elliott and Sen. Hendren to form a bipartisan Race Relations Caucus in the Arkansas legislature. An earlier effort to create a legislative race relations panel was unfortunately defeated, but we support the creation of the race relations caucus in the legislature at this disturbing time after the Charlottesville tragedy and the resurgence of racism in our country.

Winrock International engages in a wide range of constructive activities across the country and the Delta region. Among these are the Arkansas Women’s Business Center (a Winrock affiliate) which promotes greater opportunities for women in business in Arkansas. Director Liz Yong of the Women’s Business Center was also on the program at the Clinton Library session on Oct. 20. Her presentation will be included in a later report in this series.

Winrock International has conducted a wide range of community and economic development projects in the Delta in capacity building, infrastructure, energy efficiency, water/sewer systems, strategic planning, tourism and arts and culture. Among the communities benefiting from these programs recently are Lake Village, Prescott, Gould, and Native American populations in the region.

WINROCK’S DELTA INNOVATION FUND: As another recent example of Winrock’s constructive work in the region, in September, 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced that Winrock International has been awarded a $279,202 grant for the Delta Innovation Fund (I-Fund) to create early-stage seed capital funds through the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program.

Winrock’s project was supported by Sen. John Boozman, who said “This Department of Commerce initiative will benefit communities across our state by supporting innovative technologies and new businesses while helping attract and retain home-grown talent. I was pleased to support Winrock International’s proposal for this funding and am grateful for the organization’s commitment to entrepreneurship and job creation.”

This grant provides funding for technical assistance and operational costs that support the feasibility, planning, formation, launch, or scale of cluster-based seed funds that will invest their capital in innovation-based startups with high growth potential.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson said “This much-needed early stage seed capital is further proof that Arkansas’s bold approach to supporting the technology sector shows we are driving innovation and creating jobs today and creating a lasting impact for the state in the decades ahead. I congratulate Winrock International’s Delta I-Fund and the Innovation Hub on this important breakthrough.”

The Innovation Hub at Winrock International launched the original I-Fund in 2016 with an initial investment of $1 million from IberiaBank, and this year the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) expanded that effort with an additional investment of $1 million to create the Delta I-Fund, an investment fund for Delta startups. The fund targets entrepreneurs across the eight-state Delta region and provides key training, mentoring and capital investment to help them build businesses.

Through Winrock’s Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, the Delta I-Fund works in underserved communities to develop key partnerships among public, private and university programs, and create jobs and businesses in areas that need the opportunities most.


Winrock enabled Cuban farmer Yurien Bec Jelis and Cody Hopkins, a farmer in Searcy County, Arkansas, to get together and compare notes about farming. Jelis is president of a farmers’ cooperatve in Pinar del Rio, the westernmost province in Cuba, that produces pork, fruit and other agricultural products, as well as helping community members build houses.

The Delta Caucus has long called for opening up trade with Cuba. While Delta rice, poultry and other farm products would find major markets in Cuba if the failed embargo policy is finally ended, Americans will likely certain Cuban products to their liking as well.

Hopkins gave Jelis pointers on how to raise turkeys, and his Cuban counterpart expressed gratitude by slapping him on the shoulder and saying “Got it.”

According to Winrock International, Exchanges like this were repeated almost continuously over the course of five October days in Arkansas, as a delegation of four Cuban farmers got an up-close look at how one of America’s most productive agricultural states functions. A year in the making, the tour was sponsored and facilitated by Winrock International.

This was another step forward in Cuban-American relations, because it marked the first official agricultural exchange tour by Cuban farmers to the United States in over 50 years.

An article on Winrock’s website states that this international exchange “was also an extension of Winrock’s recent efforts to engage with Cuba’s agriculture sector to address economic growth and food security concerns and opportunities. In March of 2015 Winrock staff and volunteer experts visited Cuba to learn about the nation’s agroecology, especially urban farming, and the desire among farmers to develop a national organic certification system. In March of this year Winrock and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute gathered leaders from both nations at Petit Jean Mountain in Morrilton, Arkansas for the Cuba Consortium Agriculture and Food Roundtable, a high-level discussion of issues ranging from human rights to the prospects of lifting the longtime American trade embargo to allow potential cooperation in agriculture.”

Jelis said during the tour earlier this year that “I want to congratulate Winrock for having invited us to visit this country,” he says. “And I also want to congratulate both countries for allowing relationships in these 50 years to change and [to] let us exchange experiences between a developed country and a developing country. Because as a developing country, we also have a lot to teach.”

Winrock’s report further stated “That two-way flow of information was apparent at stop after stop on the tour, which included visits to small and large farms, farmers’ cooperatives, the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension and Arkansas-based retailer Walmart. At the organic 5 Acre Farm in Pleasant Plains, Arkansas, the Cubans walked through rows of carrots, spinach and arugula and peppered farmer Brandon Gordon with questions. After a demonstration of the tool Gordon uses to seed his beds, Jelis explained that many Cuban farmers spread seeds manually (and also jokingly wondered if the tool would fit in his luggage).

Later, after examining a bed of lettuce, Jelis animatedly described why he thinks Gordon would be well-served by planting onions next to the greens to help reduce damage from pests and to make his small plot of land more productive.”

The positive dialogue was captured well by another Cuban farmer on the trip, Mr. Pellicier, who believes the trip also served a more fundamental purpose. “I think that there should be a brotherhood among farmers of all countries because in the end we are after a common goal, which is feeding the population,” he says.

V. Examples of key legislative and other policy actions:

We hold these activities as a spur to positive action and dialogue. We can’t get into all of the many legislative and other policy or advocacy initiatives we are working on, but here are a few highlights:

At our conference as reported in the media, Gov. Asa Hutchinson endorsed Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee’s health care bipartisan compromise proposal, which will preserve most of the gains of the Affordable Care Act and the Arkansas Works program in Arkansas. Congressman French Hill and Congressman Rick Crawford both pledged to give a careful, open-minded appraisal of the proposal, which we support.

We have many partners across the region and they contact each of their Congressional delegations.

We lined up six state legislators at the conference to join the bipartisan effort of Sen. Joyce Elliott to form a race relations caucus in the state legislature. The earlier effort for a race relations legislative panel was defeated despite strong bipartisan support, but Sen. Elliott and other legislators at our conference believe the race relations caucus will be a positive step forward about the need for a dialogue about race relations in our state and nation today, and it is gaining momentum.

We lined up the announcement of Congressman French Hill’s co-sponsorship of the bill to allow the Delta Queen to once again travel the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers, and are supporting its passage. It passed the Senate earlier this year. It will generate tourist dollars and educate people about our region if the historic steamboat is permitted to travel once again, and it will make stops in Pine Bluff if the bill passes.

We continue our advocacy for the Delta Regional Authority, we had a very fine presentation from the new Alternate Federal Co-Chairman, Peter Kinder of Missouri, who announced finding over $500,000 in administrative expenses he can cut out and put back into the budget for projects serving the region. We have lined up strong support for the DRA and the efforts to eliminate it have no realistic chance of being carried through.

We urged passage of a state EITC to the Arkansas and Mississippi powers that be, as emphasized by Jennifer Johnson of Southern Bancorp Community Partners (explained above), Rep. Warwick Sabin, Sen. Joyce Elliott and many others at the conference;

The highlighting of role models and best practices like the ones Mayor Washington of Pine Bluff, Annette Dove at TOPPS and many others make up an important part of our advocacy, and there were a great deal of Congressional, state, private sector, universities and colleges and other leaders gathered there to hear that message.

We will keep advocating by phone calls, emails, newsletters, individual meetings, website postings and other activities every day all year.



Nucor Yamato Steel and Nucor Steel of Arkansas


Mississippi County AR Economic Opportunity Commission, Blytheville, Arkansas

J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


Illinois Municipal League

Winrock International

Millie Atkins, Co-Chair, Economic Equality Caucus, and Community Leader based in Monroe, Louisiana

Sikeston, Missouri Regional Chamber of Commerce

The Arkansas Municipal League

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas

American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas

Delta Grassroots Partners

Last but not least we would like to thank the hundreds of grassroots partners across the region and the Washington, DC area for their many contributions of registration fees, annual membership dues and other voluntary contributions in the amounts of $125, $100, $75, $50 and $25. As a grassroots sector private coalition, we need to have a diversified financial base with large numbers of small contributions, and we could not do our work without these very numerous contributions.