Congressman Bennie Thompson welcomes guests at the announcement of the Rural Partners Network. Credit: Julia James/Mississippi Today

GREENWOOD – Federal government officials, together with Congressman Bennie Thompson, traveled to the Delta Wednesday to announce a new program aimed at connecting rural communities with more resources.

The Rural Partners Network will give rural communities a local point person to help them access resources from 13 government agencies, including funding from the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. These agencies will also have designated employees focused on rural issues who will be responsible for assisting local officers and improving collaboration between agencies. 

“If Greenwood is the gateway to the Delta, we want places like Greenwood to have a gateway to the federal government so they can access the resources they need to thrive,” said White House Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice.

Mississippi was selected as one of five states for the pilot program of the Rural Partners Network, with an initial emphasis on Delta communities. The other states are Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky and New Mexico.

The White House, the United States Department of Agriculture and Congressman Bennie Thompson hosted a roundtable discussion with mayors, business councils, and other community stakeholders in the targeted counties to hear about their needs and discuss opportunities of the network to help address them. Multiple officials brought up concerns regarding water and sewer and affordable housing as extensions of economic development projects. 

“Housing is a critical need,” said Matthew Harrison, executive director of the Grenada Economic Development District. “We do not have the housing that we need today for the people we have. I’m not sure how we keep up with the economic growth and continue to expand without additional resources to make it happen, so we need this partnership.”

Community stakeholders engage in a discussion with federal officials at the launch of the Rural Partners Network. Credit: Julia James/Mississippi Today

Lee Jones, the director of the Mississippi Rural Partners Network, said that the three pilot networks in Mississippi will be the Washington County Economic Alliance (Washington, Bolivar, Sunflower, and Leflore counties), the Greater Grenada – Lake District Partnership (Grenada and Yalobusha counties), and the North Delta Planning and Development District (Coahoma, Quitman, and Tunica counties). Each network will focus on building shared economic opportunities and infrastructure advancements. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this program presents an opportunity to express appreciation for rural communities, whose people provide most of the country’s provide food, water, energy, recreational spaces and military service. He also credited Thompson for bringing attention to the need for inter-agency collaboration that this program hopes to address. 

“For far too long we have been siloed in the federal government, and this is a new day,” Vilsack said. 

Vilsack also announced grants from the USDA of approximately $1 million each to the Greenwood-Leflore Hospital, the Delta Health Center and the Delta Health Alliance.

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.