Reviving Mississippi Delta a Long, Slow Process
The steady loss of agricultural and factory jobs has left the Mississippi Delta with a low-skilled workforce struggling for income. Thirteen counties in the region have double-digit unemployment rates.
Entrepreneurs are taking various approaches to try to revive the region. The Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, for example, makes commercial loans to people, often of low-income, who have trouble finding start-up money elsewhere. The money has gone to carwashes, recycling centers, grocery stores and other local businesses, but loan officer Sue Evans says the jobs generated by these small business still aren't enough to replace those lost by the decline of manufacturing.
"When a plant leaves, you have 200-300 people that are displaced," Evans says. "It would take so many businesses to be created to absorb that, because on average, they have maybe five employees."
What the region needs is more success stories like the Viking Corporation of Greenwood, Miss. The homegrown maker of luxury kitchen appliances employs some 1,100 people. Recently, the company also set up a luxury hotel downtown to house visiting clients. "This was a great opportunity… to do something for downtown Greenwood, because this place was horrible," Founder Fred Carl Jr. says.
Increasingly, the region that gave birth to the blues is marketing itself as a destination for tourists through music clubs and festivals, and through river-town casinos that have helped generate some jobs.
But it's far from a boom. Local lawyer Bill Luckett, who co-owns a blues club and restaurant in Clarksdale, Miss., with actor Morgan Freeman, admits their ventures have yet to break even. He says for the local economy to turn the corner, deep-seated cultural problems have to improve.
"We are going to have to… overcome something for this to become a viable economy in this area," Luckett says. "We still have, in effect, segregated schools here, and unless Clarksdale pulls the races together, unless we change that, Clarksdale is going to continue to suffer."
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