NEWS: DRA welcomes 51 new leaders into program that encourages regional collaboration

October 26, 2017

Delta Leadership Institute will train fellows from all 8 states

MISSISSIPPI RIVER DELTA REGION – The Delta Regional Authority (DRA) welcomes 51 new leaders into the Delta Leadership Institute (DLI) to participate in the 10-month DLI Executive Academy program. The academy helps fellows further their skills in community leadership and policy development to promote regional collaboration and local economic growth across DRA’s eight-state region.

“DRA is pleased to begin working with this new class of leaders who are committed to learning from each other and working together to improve our region and build a strong future for the Delta,” said Peter Kinder, alternate federal co-chairman of DRA. “DRA remains committed to investing in our region’s talent with tools, experiences and networking that will provide them with ideas and solutions to ensure continued growth and development in the Delta region.”

DLI fellows will attend six sessions across the region, visiting each of the eight states in the DRA footprint. They will engage in policy and program development, advocacy training, case-study discussions, and on-the-ground field experiences aligned with DRA’s priorities for the region. Those priorities include: transportation and infrastructure; workforce training and education; entrepreneurship and disaster resilience for small businesses and communities; public health; policy and governance; and culture and tourism.

The new leadership class began its journey this week with a session in Potosi, MO., to learn more about the region and how they can contribute to increasing community capacity across the Delta.

The fellows represent a diverse cohort of community leaders in local and state government, economic development, education and healthcare, business and industry, and faith-based and non-profit organizations. The class includes seven members from Alabama; eight from Arkansas; five from Illinois; five from Kentucky; seven from Louisiana; eight from Mississippi; four from Missouri; and seven from Tennessee.

The 2017-2018 DLI Executive Academy fellows are:


  • Greg Cochran of Montgomery | Director of Advocacy and Public Policy for the Alabama League of Municipalities
  • Johnny Green of Auburn | Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs at Auburn University
  • Quinton Harris of Snow Hill | Area Director for the USDA Rural Development
  • Joseph Oglesby of Monroeville | Mayor of the City of Monroeville
  • Kennard Randolph of Selma | Outreach Coordinator for U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell
  • Steven Sigler of Fairhope | Area Director for the USDA Rural Development
  • Brandy Wilkerson of Thomasville | Planning Director for the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission


  • Len Blaylock of Warren | Executive Director of the Bradley County Economic Development Corporation
  • Gregory Dale of Wynne | Southern Region Community Economic Development Coordinator for the USDA Rural Development
  • Ben Gilmore of Crossett | Field Representative for U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman
  • Mark O’Mell of Marianna | Executive Director of the Crossroads Coalition
  • Denver Peacock of Little Rock | Principal of The Peacock Group
  • Carla Sparks of Little Rock | Rural Outreach Coordinator for Arkansas Children’s Hospital
  • Erica Tait of Jonesboro | Director of the Jonesboro Metropolitan Planning Organization
  • Ateca Williams of Little Rock | Deputy Chief of Staff of Internal Operations for Gov. Asa Hutchinson


  • Tiffany George of Villa Ridge | Executive Director of the Southern Five Regional Planning District & Development Commission
  • Tom Harness of Carterville | Owner of Harness Digital Marketing
  • Jenny Pruitt of Broughton | District Aide for U.S. Rep. John Shimkus
  • Karen Stallman of Ellis Grove | Director of Community Relations for Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Mark York of Equality | Finance Chair for the Gallatin County Board


  • Bill Bartleman of Paducah | Director of Special Projects for the West Kentucky and Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative
  • Ron Burkins of Henderson | Assistant Vice President-Western Kentucky for the Community Ventures Corporation
  • Cynthia Elder of Fancy Farm | Director of Mayfield Graves Tourism Commission
  • Brad Warning of Calvert City | Deputy Judge/Executive for the Marshall County Fiscal Court
  • Angie Yu of Wickliffe | President of Two Rivers Fisheries


  • David Cavell of Thibodaux | District Director for U.S. Rep. Garret Graves
  • Hunter Fife of Rayville | Manager-Ag Operations for Lamb Weston
  • Donna Isaacs of Campti | Executive Director of Campti Field of Dreams, Inc.
  • Lee Jones of Alexandria | Assistant to the State Director for the USDA Rural Development
  • Makesha Judson of Baton Rouge | Chief Service Office for the City of Baton Rouge
  • George Mack, Jr. of Ruston | Board Member on the Lincoln Parish School Board
  • Ardyn Thriffiley of New Orleans | President of Ardyn M. Thriffiley & Associates, Inc.


  • Eric Atchison of Jackson | Director of System Analysis, Research & Enrollment Management for the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning
  • La Shon Brooks of Greenwood | Chief of Staff & Legislative Liaison for Mississippi Valley State University
  • Jo Ann Clark of Ridgeland | Constituent Services Representative for U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran
  • Jon Delperdang of Leland | Graduate Student at Delta State University
  • Emanuel Edmond of Greenville | Chief Monitoring & Compliance Officer for the Delta Regional Authority
  • Jean Gross of Vicksburg | Vice President/Community Development Coordinator at Trustmark National Bank
  • Tray Hairston of Jackson | Attorney with Butler Snow LLP
  • Bobby Morgan of Jackson | Economic Development Policy Advisor and Senate Liaison for Gov. Phil Bryant


  • Kelli Behrle of Perryville | Project Coordinator at the Southeast Missouri State University’s Economic and Business Engagement Center
  • Trish Erzfeld of Perryville | Director of Perry County Heritage Tourism
  • Jay Lancaster of Sikeston | Director of Public Works for the City of Sikeston
  • Hillary Starnes of Dexter | Executive Director of the Dexter Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development


  • Gwyn Fisher of Memphis | Regional Director for the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development
  • Lindsay Frilling of Union City | Chief Executive Officer of Obion County Joint Economic Development Council
  • Rob Goad of Martin | Project Management/Grant Writer for the Northwest Tennessee Development District
  • Moses Goldmon of Jackson | Executive Vice President & Chaplain for Lane College
  • Gwendolyn Kilpatrick of Mason | Mayor of Town of Mason
  • Lori Nolen of Huntingdon | Executive Director of The Dixie Carter Performing Arts Center
  • Theresa Woodard of Cordova | Owner, TWMed Consulting, LLC

Fellows were selected by their respective governors and the DRA’s alternate federal co-chairman to participate in the leadership training program through a multi-step application and review process.

Since 2005, DLI has worked to strengthen the knowledge and skills of community leaders across the Delta by broadening their understanding of regional issues and building a corps of alumni that have a regional and national perspective. Upon graduation, the 51 new members will have a toolkit of resources for addressing issues facing their local communities and providing the training and professional development needed to extend the pipeline of skilled local leadership within Delta communities.

“Every new class is an opportunity for participants to share with each other their knowledge of the Delta region and what’s working in their communities,” said Spencer Lucker, DLI director. “This year’s leaders are exceptional in their respective fields, and we’re looking forward to helping them learn together, work together, and improve their communities throughout the Delta region."

DLI is a program of the Delta Regional Authority in partnership with three institutions of higher education from the DRA’s states: the University of Alabama, Arkansas State University-Jonesboro and the University of Louisiana Monroe.

About the Delta Regional Authority and the Delta Leadership Institute
The DRA is a federal-state partnership created by Congress in 2000 to help create jobs, build communities, and improve lives through strategic investments in economic development and infrastructure projects in 252 counties and parishes across eight states. DRA has provided leadership development to nearly 500 community leaders over twelve years and strengthened regional collaboration through the Delta Leadership Institute. Learn more at


Media Contact:
Andrew Moreau