Rural Opportunity Investment Conference kicks off Monday

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 107 views 

A series of meetings next week will seek to bring the private and public sectors together to leverage opportunities and resources to get things done, the federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority said Thursday.

Chris Masingill said the Rural Opportunity Investment Conference will look at several issues including energy, infrastructure, food and tourism. The conference, which will kick off Monday (Jan. 11) at Arkansas State University-Mid South and heads to the Peabody Hotel in Memphis Tuesday (Jan. 12), is part of an initiative that started in 2014 to “do more in rural America.”

In addition to DRA, the White House Rural Council is sponsoring the conference.

The first few conferences have been in the nation’s capital, laying the groundwork for the initiative. Now, the conference next week will allow a conversation to be had on a local level, Masingill said.

A key part of the meetings will attempt to bring private equity firms together with groups that may have an idea or a need, Masingill said.

Masingill said private equity groups, like Innova Memphis, can help fund large capital and infrastructure projects for cities and counties alike.

As for infrastructure, like water, sewer and broadband, Masingill said many areas in the Delta may not have the tax base or the revenue to fund projects on their own. Also, if a project is funded, it sometimes takes 30 to 40 years to pay off government loans.

Recently, Tyronza mayor Charles Glover said his town and two other nearby cities in Poinsett County – Lepanto and Marked Tree – are working on a plan to connect their water systems to each other.

Masingill said the regional approach, similar to the project in Poinsett County, in dealing with infrastructure is a “smart strategy” that can help create a better economy of scale.

Masingill noted Tennessee-based CoBank has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set up a $10 billion rural investment opportunity fund for similar projects.

Another part of the conference is food and tourism. The tourism industry, Masingill noted, brings a lot of people to the Delta while the food industry has diversified itself in recent years.

“The area is attractive due to geotourism,” Masingill said. “We get visitors from Asia and all over the world. As for food systems, rural America feeds the nation and feeds the world.”

Masingill said a company in Batesville, Future Fuel, also helps to create biofuel while another group, Mississippi-based Up in Farms, uses a “seed to table” approach with food.

Information on the conference can be found at the Delta Regional Authority website.