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New DRA co-chairman moves forward with implementing new regional equity plan for Delta region

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Former Hope Credit executive Dr. Corey Wiggins of Hazlehurst, Miss., set to make major changes at DRA after Trump administration sought to defund federal-state partnership to improve economic and community growth across the eight Delta states, including Arkansas.

By Delta Informer Executive Editor Wesley Brown ­–­­­­ May 14, 2022 — The Delta Regional Authority is going several administration changes as the Biden administration seeks to implement its Racial Equity Plan across all federal agencies.

After more than a year delay since President Biden took office, Dr. Corey Wiggins of Hazlehurst, Miss., was recently confirmed by Congress and named the new federal co-chairman of the federal-state partnership based in Clarksdale, Miss. Created by Congress in 2000, the DRA was started to help create jobs, build communities, and improve lives through strategic investments in economic development and infrastructure projects in 252 counties and parishes across eight Delta states, including Jefferson County and the namesake region of Arkansas.

Nominated by President Biden on Dec. 15, Wiggins was confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate on March 10, 2022, and becomes the fourth DRA Federal Co-Chairman to serve in the position.

A native of Hazlehurst, Mississippi, Chairman Wiggins brings a diverse set of career experiences that include working in academia, state government, nonprofit, and private sectors.  He has focused on creating equitable opportunities through systems and public policy change. 

“I am grateful to President Biden for the opportunity to lead the Delta Regional Authority at this critical time in our country” said DRA Federal Co-Chairman Corey Wiggins. “Throughout my career, I have been driven by a mission of service with an emphasis on creating equitable opportunity.  I look forward to working with the communities across 252 counties and parishes served by the Delta Regional Authority to focus on solutions that will improve quality of life in the region.”

Chairman Wiggins most recently served as the Executive Director of the Mississippi State Conference NAACP.  Previously, 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. 

In addition, Wiggins served as a Barbara Jordan Health Policy Fellow in the United States Senate and as a policy analyst for the Mississippi Legislature Joint Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) Committee.  Wiggins also held the rank of Visiting Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at Jackson State University. 

Wiggins completed his undergraduate studies with a B.S. in Biology from Alcorn State University.  He received a M.S. in Public Health with an emphasis in Health Policy and a Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Health Education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.  Additionally, he has a certificate of nonprofit leadership from Boston College and has furthered his training through fellowships with the Kaiser Family Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He and his wife Dr. Shenekia Wiggins currently live in Mississippi with their three sons.

Wiggins steps in the vacant position previously held by President Trump appointee Chris Caldwell, who resigned on January 20, 2020.  Caldwell is a former top aid for Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is now heading the campaign for Republican gubernatorial frontrunner and Pro-Trump candidate Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Leslie Durham currently serves as DRA Alternate Federal Co-Chairwoman.

During the previous administration under Caldwell’s leadership, DRA was most relegated to the bench after former President Donald Trump’s 2017 budget sought to defund the Clarksdale-based infrastructure and development agency and its Appalachian sister agency that both serve two of the poorest regions of the country, one mostly Black and the other largely white.

Although Trump did not get his wish to shutdown DRA, the agency’s budget has been downsized from previous years. In the Biden administration’s 2021 budget scenario, the federal-state agency’s cut of the $6 trillion budget was only $31.8 million. In his 2023 budget request justification to the White House, Wiggins proposes to support the grant-making activities and operations of the DRA.

As a part of that proposal, Wiggins said in a letter to President Biden and the DRA Board of Governors, which includes Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the other seven governors across the Delta footprint, that he and his staff would also be able to leverage an additional $195 million in supplemental budget appropriates to expand DRA’s reach into the distressed, rural, and historically marginalized communities we are called to serve.

Those extra funds would include another $150 million in appropriations from the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed into law by President Biden on Nov. 15, and monies from other interagency partnership programs, such as the $45 million Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities initiative.

Equity in the Delta

Since taking over this new post two months ago, DRA has already made several key changes under Wiggins. On April 22, DRA joined over 90 federal agencies in supporting the Biden administration’s “whole-of-government” equity agenda. 

Under the plan, which some conservative groups are already balking in several states, the federal government is acknowledging barriers to equitable outcomes and commits to undertaking strategic actions to minimize these barriers both in the mid-term and long-term.

“While the Delta has many abundant assets, it also has deeply entrenched obstacles that limit access to opportunity for some, including generational poverty and racial inequity, that is exacerbated by inadequate infrastructure, lack of access to quality education and healthcare, and limited employment opportunities,” Wiggins said in a recent statement.  “Delta Regional Authority’s Equity Action Plan is only the first step in making appropriate programmatic and policy-related changes that will support our equity agenda focused on listening to all stakeholders, operationalizing equity in practice and policy, and increasing participation from marginalized groups throughout the Delta region.”

In his first day of office in early 2020 after entering the White House with Vice President Kamala Harris, President Biden signed Executive Order 13985 on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government,” calling for a comprehensive approach for the Federal Government to transform itself – for fairness and equity to become not just ideals, but principles embedded in the daily practices by which Government serves the people. 

That executive order also charged the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in partnership with heads of agencies, to identify by July 2021 effective methods for assessing whether agency policies and actions equitably serve all eligible individuals and communities, particularly those of that are currently and historically underserved.

Key changes ahead in the DRA’s Equity Action Plan that will affect Jefferson County and the Arkansas Delta region, including the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and state’s other three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in Little Rock, include:

  • Revise programmatic guidelines to increase engagement with HBCUs and Federally-recognized tribes.
  • Devise a more inclusive stakeholder outreach strategy and revise programmatic guidelines to increase engagement with BIPOC, LGBTQ+, faith-based organizations, and other marginalized groups.
  • Revise programmatic guidelines to increase investment in persistent poverty counties and parishes.

Opportunities for stakeholder engagement related to the equity action plan are forthcoming. To read DRA’s Equity Action Plan:  https://www.dra.gov/equity. To learn more about the Biden-Harris Administration’s Equity Agenda:  https://www.whitehouse.gov/equity. To learn more about government-wide equity efforts:  https://www.performance.gov/equity

DRA Leadership Academy RFP extended to June

On May 2, DRA also extended a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit responses from organizations within the DRA region to work in partnership with DRA to expand and improve upon the Delta Leadership Institute (DLI), a nationally recognized leadership development program that prepares state and local leaders to work for future improvements in the region by “thinking and acting regionally.”

The DLI is an extensive ten-month program where Executive Academy Fellows travel to communities throughout the DRA’s footprint, exploring existing economic and community programs and best practices.  Throughout DLI’s six sessions, Fellows will focus on leadership development, infrastructure, workforce training and education, entrepreneurship and business development, and public health.

Chosen through a competitive application process, the DLI Executive Academy class includes Fellows from each of the eight states in the DRA footprint.  In late January, DRA graduated 24 regional leaders from the 2021 DLI Executive Academy, marking the 16th year of DLI-trained regional leaders, composed of government, non-profit, and business professionals from all eight DRA states.

in the most recent cohort, six Arkansas fellows graduation from the academy, including Becca Caldwell of Little Rock, director of the Division of Rural Services Director for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC); Kimberly Davis of Little Rock, director of Public Engagement for Gov. Asa Hutchisnon; Tamika Jenkins of Blytheville, vice president of Economic Development for the Mississippi County Economic Development; Rachel Langley-Hayes of Crossett, field and constituent services representation for Arkansas Congressman Bruce Westerman; Dr. Kyle Miller of Helena, museum director for the Delta Cultural Center; and Clint O’Neal of Conway, executive vice president global business for AEDC.

After graduation, DLI fellows become members of the Delta Leadership Network, which is comprised of more than 600 community leaders who advocate for regional collaboration, resource sharing, and innovative thinking. The DLI partners also partner with regional institutions of higher education to support and educate leaders committed to helping create jobs, build their communities, and improve the lives of their neighbors.

Currently partners include Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, the University of Louisiana Monroe (La.), and the University of Arkansas Sam M. Walton College of Business Executive Education.

Under the expanded RFP extended by Wiggins, DRA is seeking non-profits, institutions of higher education, and other stakeholders to administer one or more elements of the program under the DLI umbrella to include one or multiple components: 

  • Program Lead: Organization shall be primarily responsible for developing the main curricular components of an Executive Academy aimed at approximately 30-40 key leaders from public, non-profit, and private sectors.
  • Executive Education Workshops: Organization shall develop executive-level training modules for leadership and management to be incorporated in each session.
  • Administration: Organization shall be responsible for managing the administrative operations of the program to include payment of all program expenses, managing the program budget, and handling all program planning and logistics.
  • Delta Leadership Network (DLN): Organization shall be responsible for managing an active alumni program to encourage continued networking and partnering cultivation.
  • Other: Organization is encouraged to submit a proposal in another innovative area of leadership skills development to be included in the Executive Academy.

An informational webinar to learn more about the RFP is tentatively scheduled for May 17, at 10 a.m. Those who would like to attend can send their request to dli@dra.gov and a calendar invitation will be sent to attend the Zoom webinar. Proposals are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, June 10, 2022.

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