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Strong Regional Connections Are An Asset For Yalobusha County

By David Howell

It seems like we have had more news than time here at the Herald office lately. That is a good thing if you are in the newspaper business, especially when we are talking about positive occurrences and I would like to catch the readers up.

Last month Everest was the setting for a roundtable discussion to share input about workforce development in north Mississippi. The federal co-chairs of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Delta Regional Authority (DRA) jointly hosted the discussion with a strong group of panelist ranging from economic development directors from multiple counties to key leaders in community foundations from Jackson to Tupelo and other areas.

The ARC and DRA are economic development partnership agencies. The ARC spans portions of 13 states, focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian Region. The DRA serves 252 counties (or parishes) in the eight states. Yalobusha County is unique in that it is one of 10 counties that is located in both the ARC and DRA.

Now for a quick refresher, the mammoth project to fund the renovation of the former Big Yank/Rice Stix building was partially funded by ARC and DRA. Base Camp Coding Academy co-directors Glen Evans and Kagan Coughlin leveraged public and private funding for an almost $5 million investment to transform the long-abandoned industrial building into the state’s first rural education and innovation hub known as Everest. The $650,000 allocation from the two federal partnership agencies was vital for this effort.

One reason the two federal co-chairs decided to come to Water Valley and Everest was to see the transformation that the federal dollars had helped spawn.

Federal co-chair of the ARC Gayle Manchin told me that she is visiting each of the 13 states in the ARC that stretches from southern New York to Mississippi. She wants to get an idea of the scope of the Appalachian Regional counties. She also explained that she wants to listen and learn from the great projects that ARC is partnering with. Thankfully Mississippi wasn’t the last state on the list, she is headed to Alabama next. Manchin resides in West Virginia with her husband, Senator Joe Manchin.

Federal co-chair of DRA Dr. Corey Wiggins is a Mississippi native and was also interested in seeing Everest first-hand and future projects in the Valley.

The workforce development discussion lasted 90 minutes and was a meaningful exchange ranging from specific ideas to recruit today’s emerging workforce to a broader vision of building robust communities to generate a stronger workforce.

While important as that was, I can’t help but believe the personal connections are even more vital. As Evans and Manchin strolled down Main Street, they stopped to see Hal Vaughn’s huge melons displayed in front of the Herald office. She was impressed. I thought about the old saying, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” Maybe there will be more partnerships with ARC and DRA for Yalobusha County projects in the future.

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