Delta Regional Authority, manufacturing groups face uncertain future with Trump budget

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 662 views 

As more details of President Donald Trump’s budget were unveiled, a number of Arkansas agencies and organizations that could see deep or complete funding cuts were speaking out.

Delta Regional Authority (DRA) Federal Co-Chairman Chris Masingill, who was recently recognized by Arkansas State Senate for his agency’s accomplishments, issued a statement defending the work of the regional economic group.

“Since being created by Congress in 2000, DRA has been the leading advocate for supporting job creation, building communities, and improving lives across the eight states and 252 counties and parishes we serve in the Mississippi River Delta region and the Black Belt of Alabama,” Masingill said. “DRA is on the ground every day working to improve rural communities. We’re doing our part, and we’re not alone. Our eight Governors, congressional delegation, local mayors and community leaders work well with DRA regardless of political affiliation. We conduct business with the highest standards of public accountability and operational excellence.”

According to DRA, the authority has invested $163 million into more than 1,000 projects that have partnered with other public and private investments for a total of $3.3 billion. Those investments have helped create and retain more than 26,000 jobs, train more than 7,200 workers, and deliver water and sewer improvements to more than 64,000 residents.

Of that total, the DRA has been involved in 104 projects that have generated a total public-private investment of more than $450 million in Arkansas between 2002 and 2014. DRA spokesman Andrew Moreau said DRA has 25 employees with an operating budget of $14.3 million under a continuing resolution from Congress. The last budget approved was for fiscal year 2016, he said, and the final DRA appropriation was $25 million.

The Trump budget also calls for discontinuing federal funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program, which provides nearly $124 million annually to consulting services for small- and medium-size manufacturers. In Arkansas, much of that funding comes to Arkansas Manufacturing Solutions, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s division that provides extension services to manufacturers across the state.

AEDC spokesman Scott Hardin confirmed that Trump’s budget does call for the elimination of the MEP program in Arkansas, which receives annual funding of nearly $1 million.