Southeast Leads in Formation of House Delta Organization

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo.,

June 2, 2006 – Southeast Missouri State University President Kenneth W. Dobbins highlighted the “Operation Bootstrap” project as a model for entrepreneurial development when he joined 122 Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus participants in the annual Washington, D.C., initiative, May 24-27.

Dobbins, who was the only grassroots leader to speak twice during the three-day initiative, presented highlights of “Operation Bootstrap,” a model for creating jobs through entrepreneurial development at a meeting in the Senate Dirksen Building.

The executive committee of the Delta Grassroots Caucus chose Operation Bootstrap as one of its models for development that should be replicated widely throughout the region.

Key partners in Operation Bootstrap are the Southeast Missouri State University and the East Missouri Action Agency. Dobbins said 175 people have completed the Operation Bootstrap training course; 80 new businesses have been started; 138 jobs have been created; and 95 percent of the new businesses are still in operation after two years, and the cost per job created was $5,073.

In explaining the “recipe for success,” Dobbins noted the excellent Kauffman FastTrac curriculum; experienced, effective trainers; practical, non-academic training; use of MBA students as a resource; and a $5,500 monetary incentive for start-up costs. Program participants who completed the training submitted a business plan and received approval from an independent committee of bankers. 

Currently, four FastTrac classes are in progress, with 82 participants enrolled, Dobbins said. Operation Bootstrap was one of only five exemplary “models” for development in the region that were highlighted during the Washington initiative.

Dobbins and Dr. Martha Ellen Black of East Prairie, Mo., led the Missouri delegation, joining with Mississippi Delta Grassroots Caucus participants in the annual Washington, D.C., initiative. Dobbins and other grassroots leaders met with U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson and 18 other members of Congress and several Bush administration appointees to promote economic development in southeast Missouri and the rest of the Delta.

“We are fortunate to have Congresswoman Emerson represent our region,” Dobbins said. “She understands the difficult issues we face, and she is very supportive of initiatives to enhance economic development in this region.”

The Missouri delegation and the other local leaders focused on key issues such as entrepreneurial development, expanded funding for the Delta Regional Authority, agriculture, alternative energy, transportation and health care during the annual Caucus initiative. Emerson led the way in the official formation of a new Congressional Delta Caucus in the House of Representatives to increase cooperative efforts in Congress in promoting the Delta’s economic development.

Lee Powell, Caucus director, praised Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo), Rep. Mike Ross (AR), and Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) for leading the way in officially registering a bipartisan House of Representatives Congressional Member organization designed to encourage greater cooperation among the 46 members of Congress in promoting economic development in the eight-state, 240-county region covered by the Delta Regional Authority (DRA). Powell and other Caucus leaders praised Emerson for creating a Congressional Delta Caucus in the House to “create a bipartisan coalition of members to bring awareness about poverty and economic stagnation in the Mississippi River Delta and promote the region’s economic development.”

“We need for all members from both parties in all eight states to be active in going to bat for the Delta, and seeing Rep. Emerson (R-MO) working with Rep. Ross and Rep. Ford in such a bipartisan way is a constructive step in that direction,” Powell said.

Powell commended many Delta members of Congress for supporting funding for the Delta Regional Authority, as well as opposition to proposed budget cuts in farm programs, rural development, education and health care.

“These harsh budget cuts would disproportionately harm the already impoverished Delta, where our farmers in southeast Missouri and across the region are already suffering terribly. Many rural areas are badly underserved in health care, and our children lack access to educational opportunities that are taken for granted in more prosperous regions of our country,” Powell said.

Ross and most of the other members of Congress endorsed much greater Congressional funding for ethanol, biodiesel and other renewable fuels. Several Caucus participants such as Lisa Stocker of Potlatch Corp., Dobbins and Harvey Joe Sanner of the American Agriculture Movement in Des Arc, Mo., voiced support for alternative energy. Powell emphasized that “In this age of sky-high gas prices, renewable energy will create jobs, generate new markets for our producers and reduce our dangerous dependence on foreign oil in the Middle East.”