- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A federal agency on Wednesday said it is spending $1.3 million on nine projects in Arkansas, part of $108 million in public and private investments it says will help the struggling Mississippi Delta region.

The Delta Regional Authority announced the funding through its Economic Development Assistance Program and said the projects would help create and retain nearly 1,000 jobs around the state.

“We are moving forward to help create jobs, build communities and improve lives,” DRA Chairman Chris Masingill said at a news conference with Gov. Asa Hutchinson at the state Capitol. “These projects will do that.”

Created by Congress in 2000, the DRA assists 252 counties and parishes in eight states in the Delta region.

Most of the announced investments, more than $99 million, are coming from businesses, foundations or private donations with the DRA and other agencies contributing additional funds. For example, food distributor Ben E. Keith is putting $60 million toward a North Little Rock facility with another $2.2 million coming from DRA and other agencies.

The DRA’s largest investment among the projects was $250,000 for the “Be Pro. Be Proud.” Initiative to train 9-12th grade student, parents teachers and others about the value of technical skilled professions and workforce development. The program is also receiving $245,700 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and private donations.

Other projects include the expansion of the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, improvements to the Helena Harbor rail system in east Arkansas and the renovation of the Our House Learning Center for homeless adults in Little Rock.

John Edwards, the Helena Harbor’s economic development director, said the funding to reopen the rail service and revitalize Phillips County. The project is receiving $155,500 from DRA, along with another $500,000 from the state, local government and a private donation, which officials said will help retain 115 jobs.

“When a community loses its rail service, it can be a total death knell to any kind of economic future or jobs for the people who live there,” Edwards said. “That’s what we were facing earlier this year in Phillips County.”

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Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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