The State of Mississippi, like any other state, is susceptible to a number of natural and man-made hazards. The South Delta region faces the same hazards as the rest of the state and some not associated with the entire state. The region, just like the rest of Mississippi, is threatened annually by devastating tornadoes, drought and severe thunderstorms. Not as frequent, but just as devastating, is the threat of winter storms and hurricanes that approach 36 the state from an angle leaving the region vulnerable to spin off tornadoes and flooding. The South Delta region, by its very nature, is extremely vulnerable to flooding resulting from storms and prolonged periods of rain. Additionally, the threat always exists for a break in the levee that retains the Mississippi River.
In addition to threats already mentioned, is the region’s location along the New Madrid fault. This location expands the list of natural threats to include earthquakes. Though the threat of an earthquake may seem very small it is a very real possibility and like the others must be included in future planning efforts.
There are several politically based external forces that are at work in the South Delta Planning and Development District. These political forces include Federal and State programs as well as the current administration.
Portions of the District were included in the Mid Delta Empowerment Zone Alliance. This Empowerment Zone designation, a joint program through the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for urban zones and the U. S. Department of Agriculture for rural zones, had a ten-year time frame. Even though the time frame for the Empowerment Zone has expired, the benefits of this designation are still in evidence. The broad and flexible usage of the funds associated with the designation provided an additional resource for financing projects of all types. These projects have included water system improvements, sewer system improvements, port facility additions and drainage improvements just to name a few. All of these projects continue to provide benefit to the citizens of the region long after the expiration of the Empowerment Zone designation.
More recently, seven census tracts within the district were designated for the Opportunity Zone program. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 established Opportunity Zones as a new community development program aimed to encourage long term investments in low-income and rural communities.
Private investors could earn tax relief through investments made in qualified Opportunity Funds. In turn, Qualified Opportunity Funds must be invested in designated Opportunity Zones. Low-income communities, defined as census tracts with a poverty rate of 20 percent or greater and/or family income less than 80 percent of the area’s median income, were eligible for consideration as Opportunity Zones. Each state could nominate up to 25 percent of the total number of eligible low-income community census tracts within the state.
There are seven Opportunity Zone designations in the region.
The U.S. Department of Treasury approves the nominated census tracts and administers the Opportunity Zone Program. States were required to submit Opportunity Zone applications to the U.S. Department of Treasury no later than March 21, 2018. Mississippi accepted and reviewed applications for tracts to receive consideration. Governor Phil Bryant submitted his nominations to the U.S. Department of Treasury in March, 2018
The previous cluster analysis leads us to a number of conclusions concerning the impact, of the national economy as a whole and private sector actions, on the economy of the South Delta region. One would have the impression that a few of the clusters might be somewhat more immune to the impacts of the ups and downs of the national economy than others. At first glance it would stand to reason that food and health care are items of necessity and as such would not seem to be as easily impacted by swings in the economy. However, as everything, including the identified clusters/sectors, becomes part of the global economy they become much more susceptible to the impacts of inflation, interest rate increases and an over economic downturn. Advances in technology, along with decisions of elected officials, are impacting each of the five identified sectors/clusters on a daily basis.
Multi-million-dollar private sector investment in the State of Mississippi should be a boon to all areas of the State. Additionally, these major investments improve the overall financial status of the State thereby allowing the Legislature the opportunity to increase the funding for programs that help all areas of the State., not just the location of the investment. These benefits may be somewhat indirect but, benefits nonetheless. The location of the automotive industry facilities, along with steel and aluminum facilities should have improved the economy of the South Delta region through investment and job creation focused on bringing ancillary businesses to the region. Unfortunately, regardless of recruitment efforts, these ancillary business locations have not yet come along; therefore, the region has continued to maintain a “go it alone” attitude focusing on growing industry with partners from outside the state rather than within.
The overall population of the district has continued to decrease putting a very steady pressure on the region to maintain the basic services necessary for the remaining population. Numerous efforts are either underway or on the horizon to try and curb the outmigration of residents as well as attract newcomers. Current residents do not appear to be as focused on the social component of the overall community as much as potential newcomers. Making more of an effort to promote placemaking, improving quality of place and quality of life opportunities is of the utmost importance in bringing newcomers to the area and encouraging them put down roots. Although, not the main focus of current residents, these same place-based activities are more important for residents remaining in the area than many believe. It is crucial for the future economic health of the South Delta region for local governments to focus on supporting the arts, entertainment, and tourism sectors for the future growth and stability of the region.