Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion on Investment in the Mississippi Delta Region in Clarksdale, Mississippi
The President. Thank you. Please be seated everybody. Well, it's hot as a firecracker in here. [Laughter] So I feel right at home. [Laughter] I don't know whether Bob Koerber and the people at Waterfield are insured against heatstroke by strangers happening in along the way, but let me say that I am delighted to be here today. I've had a good day already.
And I've got a large group with me, and I can't mention them all, but I'd like to mention a few of them. First I want to thank Secretary Slater, who is, as all of you know, also from Arkansas and worked with me on the Delta commission. I want to thank our Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman; our Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman, who is here with me; our SBA Administrator, Aida Alvarez. Reverend Jackson, thank you for being here.
I'd like to thank David Bronczek from FedEx; Jack Haugsland from Greyhound. We'll introduce our panelists later. I'd also like to say a special word of thanks to Lieutenant Governor Ronnie Musgrove and his family. They're here, and we thank him for his interest in the development of the Delta.
Our Congressmen, Bennie Thompson, from this district, thank you; and I understand Congressman Ronnie Shows from Mississippi is also here. Ronnie is standing up there. Thank you. And we have two visitors who have come from a long way away to be with us, Congressman Jim Clyburn from South Carolina and Congressman Paul Kanjorski, all the way from Pennsylvania, down here. Thank you very much.
And we thank Attorney General Mike Moore for being here and all the other people from Mississippi who are here.
Let me say again to Bob Koerber and all the folks here at Waterfield, we thank you for giving us a chance to both tour this plant and to camp out in some of your space.
And I would like to be very brief. I've learned to attenuate these remarks of mine. Yesterday it was 100 degrees in Hazard, Kentucky. We had 10 or 15,000 people outside, and I said I don't believe I'd better give this speech I was going to give.
Hello, Governor Mabus. It's nice to see you. Welcome. Thank you very much for being here. And I think my friend William Winter is here. Governor Winter, are you here somewhere? He met me at the airport. So anyway, I talked for about 5 minutes, and I'd like to do that.
I just want to tell you exactly why we're here. First of all, the people in the Delta know better than anybody else that, while this country has had an unbelievable run—we've had the longest peacetime expansion in our history, nearly 19 million jobs since the day I took the oath of office. We have the lowest recorded rates ever of unemployment among African-Americans and Hispanics. We have the highest rate of homeownership ever. We have a million kids lifted out of poverty.
Now, having said all that, in the Delta, the poverty rate is much higher than the country as a whole. In this county, it's over twice as high. The unemployment rate is higher than the national average, and the investment rate is lower.
Now, a lot of you—I remember when I was out on a barge in the Mississippi River outside Rosedale with Ray Mabus back in the mideighties, and we signed this agreement with the then-Governor of Louisiana about all the things we wanted to do with the Delta, and then we worked on the Delta commission for all those years. A lot of good things have happened here, and I want to talk a little about some of them. But I want you to know I am making this tour of America for one simple reason: I want everybody in America to know that while our country has been blessed with this economic recovery, not all Americans have been blessed by it, that it hasn't reached every place.
I want our country to know that there are great opportunities out here for investment for jobs in America. I want them to know what we have done already to make it easier for people to make the most of those opportunities and what we're still trying to do.
Now, let me say, ever since I became President, I have done what I could to increase investment in undeveloped areas through the empowerment zones, which give tax credits and put tax money into distressed areas, through the enterprise communities, through getting banks to more vigorously approach the Community Reinvestment Act, and setting up community development financial institutions or supporting those that are already in business, like the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta. It's a private, tax-exempt business group. It is a real success story. Just since 1994, it's given financial or technical assistance to more than 600 companies, including Delta Laundry and Computers here in Clarksdale.
Now, we set these operations up all over the country. Overall, the ECD here has helped to generate more than 5,000 jobs and $200 million in annual sales. Bill Bynum, the CEO and president of ECD is here. We thank him for being here today.
Today corporations represented here with me are going to invest $14 million more in the ECD, so they'll have more money to loan out to people here to create more jobs. Today, around the country, there will be about $150 million more announced to be invested in organizations like this.
In addition to that, I'm trying to get Congress to pass a bill which will give tax incentives, tax credits, and loan guarantees to people to invest in the Delta and other poor areas of America, just like they get today to invest in poor areas around the world. I think that it's a good thing that we encourage people to invest in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, but they ought to have the same incentives to invest in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia and the Native American reservations and the inner cities. That is what we're trying to do here. We're trying to close what Reverend Jackson calls the "resource gap."
Now, let me say, we've got a lot of other challenges in the Delta. We have a terrible crisis in American agriculture today. Last year we came up with billions of dollars to try to keep our farmers going. This year we're going to have to do it all over again. And we've got a lot of other problems. But fundamentally, what I want America to know is that every place in the country, and today this place, is full of good people, capable of doing good work, who can be trained to do any kind of work, and we are going to do everything we can in the Government to give the financial incentives necessary for people to invest here.
And I want to make the same point I made yesterday: Everybody in America has a selfish interest now in developing the Delta. Why? Because most economists believe that, if we're going to keep our economic recovery going without inflation, the only way we can possibly do it is to find more customers for our products and then add more workers at home. If you come here, you get both in the same place. You get more workers and more consumers. So it's good for the rest of America as well.
So again I say I am delighted to be here. I had a wonderful time in Memphis last night, but I ate too much. I'm sorry it's so hot, but I hope nobody passes out, and I want to give Secretary Slater now a chance to talk to our panelists, and then I want all of you to think about, when we leave here, what we can do to show people the opportunity that's here now and what you could do to help me pass, on a bipartisan basis, the necessary tax incentives and loan guarantees to say to any investor, anywhere in America, if you come to the Mississippi Delta, you can get at least as good a deal as you could investing anywhere else in the world. And we're right here at home, and we need you.
Thank you very much.
[At this point, the discussion began.]
The President. I just want to emphasize for everybody who is here listening, because a lot of you may be able to come to Bill with a good idea, there are—it's not just that there is not enough money available in this area for good investments; someone has to decide what's a good investment. And what he has done is to basically go out and get money from other people who, on their own, would never have the time or effort or maybe even the inclination to make these investments, but they trust them to do it—including our community development fund, which, as you heard, they've given him $4 1/2 million. Hillary and I, when we were in Arkansas, helped to set up the Southern Development Bank in Arkansas, as you know, so we believe in this.
In addition to that, I want to emphasize one other thing. In the empowerment zone program, that the Vice President has run for us over the last 6 years, people who invest there can get substantial tax benefits for investing, and then they get tax benefits for hiring people. But they don't get them if they're outside of these zones.
One of the reasons that I'm trying so hard to pass this legislation is not every place in America can be in an empowerment zone, even if we keep increasing them every year. So what I want to do is to make every area in America that needs an investor equally eligible to get the investor's attention by being able to get these kinds of tax benefits, so we can get more money into these development corporations and then have equal tax incentives for investors to go into high unemployment areas. Those two things, if we have enough people like you who are as good as it as you have been, I think will make a huge difference. I think it will— really, in the next 5 or 6 years, would make a breathtaking difference, because people are out here looking at these markets now. And I want to thank you.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Let me say this very briefly. I was there when you started, and I was delighted when I heard you were going to be on the program. I wish we'd had time today— we don't—to tell everybody the fascinating story of how you got started, how you found the equipment to do the brown rice in the first place, and someday you ought to write it up, because no one who understands what was going on in America at the time would believe it. And it's a real tribute to your initiative. And I'm glad you're still doing well and glad you're still growing. Thank you for being here today. Thank you.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Let me say, I'm delighted that you've done so well over these years since you began in Arkansas. I remember when you planted roots in Pine Bluff. I just think it's worth pointing out that the South Shore Bank of Chicago, which financed you, was really the first great community development bank in the United States, and they were inspired, among others, by a man named Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh who has now made millions of loans to poor, poor village people in Bangladesh through the bank you set up.
Hillary and I had some contact with him. That's what led to the establishment of the bank in Arkadelphia and to my belief that we in the National Government ought to do more to support people like Bill. I think—again, you've just heard now three stories, and two of them involve people who have had to get credit. A lot—I always say one of Clinton's laws of politics is, when somebody tells you that a problem is not a money problem, they're almost always talking about someone else's problem, not their own. To a great extent, this is a money problem. You have all these talented people and all these good ideas; there is a pretty even distribution of human resources and ability in this whole world, but there is not an even distribution of access to capital. And that's what it is we're trying to fix. So I thank you.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. You're being way too modest. Now, you know, this lady is the assistant plant manager here. According to my notes, she also is the mother of five children. When this place was in bankruptcy, they took it out, and they've turned it around. They're doing good business; they're expanding their work force. And I think what we need, frankly, are more people that have this particular expertise, particularly in the Delta, because there's more than one place like this.
Our host was telling us there's another place across the river in Arkansas that he's been looking at now. If we had a core of people who had this skill to go with what our local venture capitalist and banker here is doing for us, we could really do some good. But I think we ought to recognize that what these people have done here and the jobs that they've given folks the opportunity to hold is quite important and could be a good model for others in the Delta. So I thank you for what you've done.
[The discussion continued.]
The President. Well, I know we've got to wrap up. If you don't remember anything else when you leave, remember what Cathy said, not just the $500 million, although that's real money even in 1999; that's very impressive. This is a good business opportunity here. If we cannot fully develop the Delta now when we have the strongest economy in our lifetime, when will we ever get around to it?
And remember, if you—put yourself in my position. I sit in Washington all the time, trying to think about how can we keep this economic recovery going, adding more jobs, raising incomes, without having inflation. If we get inflation, then the Federal Reserve will have to raise interest rates so much, the economic recovery will slow down.
The only way to do it—I will say again to all of America—the only way to do it is more customers, which then makes possible more employees, when you can do that with higher productivity and no inflation. The best place in America to do that is a place which has not yet felt the recovery. This is a big deal.
I want to thank all of our business leaders for coming, and all of our great entrepreneurs here in the Delta. I want to thank you. I know we could stay here until tomorrow if we could all keep breathing.
I do want to point out that except for the occasional reverend of the cloth and the odd politician, the head of the electric utility is the only guy still wearing his coat because he wants you to use more juice. [Laughter] And I think that is very impressive. I want to thank our friend from Greyhound because we may always need some people to be able to get to and from jobs that aren't in the small towns of rural America but who want to live in rural America. That's been one of the big challenges Secretary Slater has tried to face with welfare reform, even; trying to make sure people who live in the inner cities can at least get to the suburbs or who live in small towns can get to a big city so they can take a job without having to undermine their ability to be good parents.
And I want to thank my friend Bob Cabe from Blue Cross. You need to know that in our former lives, we were both lawyers. And he's a very special economic development expert for me, because in 1981, I was the youngest ex-Governor in the history of America with very limited future prospects, and he and his firm offered me a job. So I am living proof that economic development works, thanks to Bob Cabe, and I thank you very much. And I want to thank, again, all these people for their wonderful work.
The story needs to go out across America. This is a good investment. This is a good deal. We will help you. We will help you. We have institutions to help you. We have tax relief to help you. And more and more, our financial institutions are coming up with the money. But America needs to wake up and recognize that the best new market for American products and for new American investment is right here in the U.S. of A.
Thank you very much, and God bless you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 10:25 a.m. at the Waterfield Cabinet Co. In his remarks, he referred to Robert C. Koerber, president and chief executive officer, and Cora Porter, assistant plant manager, Waterfield Cabinet Co.; civil rights leader Jesse Jackson; David J. Bronczek, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Federal Express; Jack W. Haugsland, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Greyhound Lines, Inc.; Lt. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, State Attorney General Mike Moore, and former Governors Ray Mabus and William Winter of Mississippi; former Gov. Charles (Buddy) Roemer of Louisiana; William J. Bynum, president, Enterprise Corporation of the Delta; Muhammad Yunus, founder and chief executive officer, Grameen Bank, Bangladesh; Catherine P. Bessant, president, Community Development Banking Group, Bank of America; J. Wayne Leonard, chief executive officer, Entergy Corp.; and Robert D. Cabe, executive vice president for legal, governmental relations, and community services, Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield. Former Governors Mabus and Roemer were vice chairs of the now-defunct Lower Mississippi Delta Development Commission.
William J. Clinton, Remarks in a Roundtable Discussion on Investment in the Mississippi Delta Region in Clarksdale, Mississippi Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/227439