DRA, congressional staff see how Natchez and Alcorn are working together

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Statistics do not tell the story of Mississippi’s needy rural counties. People do. Showing some of the struggles, failures and triumphs of those people prompted a trip from Memphis to New Orleans

last week by Delta Regional Authority representatives and their guests &045; staff members from the congressional offices of key Mississippi River Valley senators and representatives.

&uot;When you see the socio-economic statistics of our area, including the poverty level, you see they are not glowing numbers like you might find in places like Atlanta and Dallas,&uot; said Hayes Dent, project director for the Clarksdale-based authority. &uot;We want to show that there are real people attached to those statistics and also want them to know there are people ready to solve the problems.&uot;

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At Natchez, Dent and the several dozen travelers with him stopped for lunch at Dunleith, where Dr. Napoleon Moses of Alcorn State University in Lorman told in an illustrated lecture how the university and the Natchez community are working together as problem solvers.

&uot;Our vision for Natchez is clear to us. We’re going to build a technology park in Natchez as a hub and data center for the Mid-South,&uot; said Moses, professor and dean of the School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences at Alcorn. &uot;Imagine the impact on Adams County of having 20 to 30 digital imaging technology firms, each hiring 20 to 50 knowledgeable and competent workers with salaries in the $35,000 to $55,000 range.&uot;

Moses described the technology capabilities of a three-dimensional digital imaging company expected to anchor the proposed park. The applications are endless, he said, including for science, medicine, archaeology, architecture and homeland security.

&uot;We are focusing on one technology with many applications to attract many different related firms,&uot; he said.

University officials have said they envision the technology park being established near the new ASU Business Administration complex, now under construction and expected to open in 2004. The thriving MBA program already is in existence but operates in borrowed rooms at the adjacent school of nursing.

Michael Ferdinand, executive director of the Natchez Adams Economic Development Authority, reiterated a point made by Moses in his presentation, that &uot;universities have resources that companies need.&uot;

&uot;This is one project where the cost of transportation does not drive the project,&uot; Ferdinand said of the technology park concept. Rather, it is a labor-critical project, and that is an area in which the university can help &045; in addition to research and development support.

Dent said projects such as the technology park are exactly what the Delta Regional Authority wants to see and support. &uot;To have a historically black university like Alcorn working in collaboration with the community of Natchez &045; this is significant,&uot; Dent said. &uot;To have people from Alcorn talk with the congressional staff about how they’re forming partnerships is good opportunity. These staff people have the eyes and ears of their bosses.&uot;

Indeed, the Delta Regional Authority benefits from the trip, as well. &uot;We’re less than two years old. As an agency, we’re developing relationships that will drive our existence.&uot;

The authority, under the direction of Pete Johnson, serves an eight-state region through federal-state partnerships formed to address poverty through economic development projects.