Gaining an advantage: New organization already making a difference in Sunflower County

By BY RECARDO THOMAS STAFF REPORTER,

Building a strong, capable, qualified workforce is one of the best ways to promote growth in a community and the Mississippi Delta is one area that is primed for growth.

A newly-formed organization is prepping to do its part to enhance the economic development of this fertile flatland.

Clara W. Crossland, chairperson for Delta Advantage Center,  said the organization’s goal is to help companies succeed because when companies are successful, the community is successful.

Formed just under five months ago, Crossland said Delta Advantage Center has essentially been catapulted into service.

“We are brand-spanking-new,” she said, “The COVID-19 situation has kind of accelerated our plans for working there in Moorhead.”

DAC has officially taken on its first project, although it may not be directly related to economic development.

The group is partnering with the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi and other organizations who will provide food, so the group can open up a food bank for the Moorhead community and Sunflower County.

Sunflower County Economic Development Director Fred Washington said on Tuesday that the DAC group has been in conversation with Indianola Mayor Steve Rosenthal and has come to an agreement to use the Morris Lewis Jr. Scout Hut on Main Street as a temporary solution for distributing the food.

He said the group has reached out to pastors in Moorhead to contact their congregants to ascertain the number of people in each household so the group can begin distributing the food items door-to-door based on the number of persons residing there.

That will be the first phase of their initial endeavor and from there the group plans to branch out to the Indianola area where again local pastors will be called upon to assist along with groups such as the Indianola Promise Community.

Even though they are forging ahead, Crossland admits that right now they are not as established as they would like to be.

The food bank is just their first initiative.

Restrictions and other changes related to the coronavirus pandemic kind of threw a monkey wrench into their plans and Crossland said that has caused them to really operate “on the fly.”

Working remotely at the moment, she said they are trying to do what they can with what they have. “We have some plans, but we're not ready to hit the ground running with those yet,” she said.

A major component of their plan is the construction of a facility with a minimum of 15,000 square feet in Moorhead that will contain office spaces for participants’ use and a multi-purpose area designed for the community’s use as needed.

The Moorhead native said she has long been wanting to do something with regard to helping the community in Moorhead.

The start-up date to begin erecting the building is in limbo mainly because of the coronavirus situation. She said that without knowing when it will all be over it's hard to set a construction date.

The vision is to establish a program that will prepare residents with the “soft skills” needed to get a job and keep a job.

They are hoping to help individuals with regard to preparation and retention of employment to address local workforce issues.

Plus, they hope to work with entrepreneurs with new start-ups to help them get their businesses established and be successful.

“Because once we get a new company established and successful then they will hire people and that will affect the workforce there.” said Crossland.

The permanent facility will also be home to various tools utilized in economic development. "We are looking to start a business incubator and that would be for anyone there in the Delta who is interested in starting a business or who are new in the business world,” she said.

One of the basic services offered will be business plan setup and preparation. Crossland said they would also teach participants how to go through the process of establishing a business, how to complete all of the proper paperwork including licenses and registrations plus make sure employee identification numbers are properly acquired.

“We would like to be a resource for that,” she said.

Crossland added, “We would like to do networking that will assist with them meeting those in our community who are available to help them with funding.”

She said they won't be providing the funding, but they plan to help the prospective business owners make the right connections.

Participants will also have the option of renting retail space within the facility. She assured that the DAC will not try to micromanage anyone’s  business. "We don't know their business, but what we do know is how to run a business," she said.

They will also help with regulation guidelines for a particular business, making sure systems are in place to handle sales taxes and making sure employment records are properly kept.

She said although there are other established organizations that do what they plan to do, this would be the first-of-its-kind for Delta Advantage Center. Also, other programs usually have a cost associated with them, but Delta Advantage Center’s program will not have a cost related to its services.

However, participants would incur a cost if they decided to secure a rental space within the facility to house their business.

In addition to Crossland serving as chairperson for the organization, the Moorhead-based group will be governed by a yet to be named board of advisors.

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