DRA Co-chairman speaks at Jonesboro conference
Delta Regional Authority Co-Chairman Dr. Corey Wiggins grew up in a rural part of Mississippi, about nine miles from Hazlehurst, a town of 4,000 residents. From an early age, he understood the unique problems and challenges that face communities throughout the Mississippi River region.
Wiggins served as the keynote speaker Tuesday (Feb. 28) at the NEA Economic Development Commission’s ELECTED event in Jonesboro. The event, co-sponsored by the Delta Center for Economic Development, was a networking event developed for elected officials throughout Northeast Arkansas.
Many of the elected officials in the crowd have or should utilize the services and opportunities the DRA provides, he said. Old and crumbling infrastructure is a problem nearly every community in the Delta faces, he added.
“There are a lot of challenges with water and sewer across our region … count DRA as a partner in fixing those issues,” he said.
Formed in 2000, but not funded until 2002, the DRA makes strategic investments of federal appropriations into the physical and human infrastructure of Delta communities. Through the States’ Economic Development Assistance Program, these investments help to improve transportation and basic public infrastructure and to strengthen workforce development systems and local business environments, according to DRA.
It has an annual budget of about $30 million, but the recently passed federal infrastructure bill added another $150 million in resources, Wiggins said.
The organization has four guide metrics when it assesses projects to fund, he said. Job retention, job creation, families impacted, and people trained are the primary focuses of their efforts.
Two problems, beyond budget constraints, impact communities in the region, he said. Towns and cities with strong leadership and comprehensive strategic plans for sustainability and growth fare better than the communities who don’t have those two things.
DRA sponsors a yearly leadership academy and recently started a strategic planning grant program. The program aims to help communities refine and develop realistic growth plans throughout the 252 county and parish area the organization covers.
Wiggins is the fourth co-chairman to be appointed since the DRA was formed.
He previously served as the Executive Director of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP. Prior to that, he served as Senior Vice President of Policy at Hope Enterprise Corporation and Hope Credit Union. He also served as Executive Director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center and as Director of the Hope Policy Institute, where he focused on strengthening communities, building assets, and improving lives in economically distressed parts of the MidSouth.