Economic Development Initiative

Since the fall of 2009, HLS students on the Economic Development Initiative (formerly the “Financial Services”) have been involved in supporting various for-profit and nonprofit entities in Mississippi focused on improving access to affordable, responsible financial services.

Students have worked with the Institute for Community Based Research (ICBR) at Delta State University to develop a guide to community financial services for students at Delta State and for staff members of local nonprofits.  In addition, students have worked with Southern Bancorp, the largest rural development bank in the country to support various community development activities, including free tax assistance and promoting historic preservation.  In spring 2011, the financial services team worked with the Mississippi Center for Justice to develop consumer education materials on payday lending and the Dodd-Frank Act. The team spent most of the 2011-2012 school year working with the Delta Regional Authority, the Small Business Administration, and ACCION USA as they started a new microfinance initiative in the Delta region. The work consisted of legal and regulatory research, policy research, and interviewing key stakeholders at banks and other organizations throughout the Delta.

In the fall of 2012, students developed legislation meant to facilitate the growth of microfinance and microlending in the Mississippi Delta region, with a focus on Arkansas. Work included research regarding regulatory obstacles and potential economic development programs as well as policy analysis to support the legislation. The team worked with local stakeholders in developing their recommendations.

In the spring of 2013,  students working on the financial services team helped to develop policy meant to facilitate the funding of microfinance and microlending in Arkansas based on the legislation the team wrote in the fall semester. Work included research and policy analysis to support legislation intended to establish a revolving loan fund for microfinance institutions. The team worked with local stakeholders, including mirofinance institutions and government organizations, in developing their recommendations.

In the fall of 2013, students working on the financial service team helped develop policy recommendations regarding the paid time off available to hourly wage workers in Mississippi. This time off is necessary for low-income workers to be able to visit a doctor or take care of a sick child. Team members conducted research for a report which was completed for a policy and advocacy organization located in the Delta.

In the spring of 2014, the Economic Development Team  will be working on developing solutions to encourage investment in Helena, Arkansas, focusing on crime reduction techniques. Recently, Helena has experienced an increase in crime, including residential and business break-ins, which is making it hard to attract investment. We will be doing research on possible policy solutions or programs that could be enacted by either the Helena government or local stakeholders who want a solution to the crime problem.