Chris Masingill and Tom Fern at PADD office in Mayfield on Thursday.
(Mayfield, August 4, 2011) - Chris Masingill, Federal Co-Chairman of the Delta Regional Commission, spent a few hours listening on Thursday. He and Tom Fern, Kentucky’s USDA Rural Director, were in Mayfield for the only Kentucky session in this round. There were complaints about a range of topics, among them a lack of funding for highways and port development, bureaucratic red tape and education and technical education issues.
The listening session at the Purchase Area Development District in Mayfield attracted around forty local officials, economic development specialists and interested citizens. They came to share their ideas and to hear what kinds of help that Masingill’s and Masingill stressed that his agency, which covers 252 counties and parishes in eight states, has four congressional mandates: basic public infrastructure, transportation issues, work force education and training and business development and entrepreneurship.
He said that when rural region does well, the nation does well. He said the listening sessions are important to the Obama Administration. The Delta Regional Commission, (www.DR.gov) focuses on rural issues along the Mississippi River from Missouri in the north to Louisiana and Mississippi in the south. The agency works to improve the lives of 10 million residents along the river.
Carlisle County Judge Greg Terry has been a regular caller to Masingill. Terry’s small county was buffeted by a tornado in April and flooding this summer. Masingill encouraged Terry and his fellow judges to keep calling on him and his agency.
Judge Greg Pruitt of Hickman County urged the Commission to help the region get ready for a new, improved Panama Canal. When completed, the Canal will be able to handle larger cargo ships, some of which will be coming up the Mississippi River past Kentucky counties. Pruitt asked for technical assistance to develop intermodal transportation to get on the “front side of the curve” in prepare for increased river traffic.
Masingill told Pruitt that his agency is on board with efforts to prepare for the Panama Canal. He pointed to business opportunities for the ports to grow.
The Port of Hickman in Fulton County is the farthest north all weather port. Hickman suffers from a lack of funding to keep the river dredged properly. Compounding Hickman’s problems is competition for funds from Cates Landing, a Tennessee port under development. That port has run into funding problems and completion has been delayed. It too will have to be dredged regularly – an expensive process that Hickman cannot afford to do on its own.
Masingill didn’t hear all bad news and complaints. Agri-Energy, biofuels plant in Hopkinsville, is a farmers’ co-op that has marketed its product to central Kentucky. Waste solids are sold as animal feed and carbon dioxide, also a by-product, is piped across the street to a dry ice plant. The combined operations employ eighty.
Education came into focus as one employer complained that his employees need to learn public relations. An editor of a small west Kentucky newspaper, who works with students on a regular basis, offered her opinion that teaching to achievement tests hasn’t prepared students for college. Others in the room asked for more technical education.
Masingill and Fern offered an alphabet soup of programs available from their agencies. Those in attendance took notes and picked up materials before leaving. If the session results in help for communities suffering in a down economy, then the listening session will put West Kentucky counties on the front side of the curve.