Leflore County, Mississippi
The two businesses are the Viking Range Company, a high-end kitchen equipment manufacturer, and Staplcotn, the world’s largest and oldest cotton cooperative. These two firms are the new and old South cheek by jowl — a stark contrast between entrepreneurship and an agricultural subsidy system that underwrites white privilege in a region that is predominantly poor and black. It is also a contrast between a business that creates good jobs and a prosperous economy and one that does not.
The Census Bureau’s Consolidated Federal Funds Reports tells us that USDA nutrition programs (food stamps, school lunch) pumped $46 million into the county from 2005 to 2007…
But for the town of Greenwood and Leflore County, a new South is rising. Inside the small downtown of Greenwood you can see restored old buildings, foot traffic on the sidewalks, and energy. The reason? In large part it’s because of the Viking Range Corporation, a locally-owned business that now has three plants in the area employing more than 1,000 people. A renovated hotel, The Aluvian, is perhaps the finest in Mississippi, and hosts travelers from all over the world who come to take cooking classes at Viking.
More locally, from 2005 to 2007, the USDA subsidized commodity crop producers in Leflore County to the tune of $48.8 million, according to the Environmental Working Group’s most detailed compilation of publicly available data. These payments dwarf the $1.2 million spent by the USDA Rural Development program in Leflore County over the same three years. Other federal small business and community development grants added another $1 million. These totals probably miss some workforce training investments in the county. Still, the margin between the amount spent on commodity subsidies in Leflore County and the amount spent on rural development is enormous.
For all the money spent on agricultural subsidies, they create little regional economic vitality. Agriculture employs few people, is largely seasonal, and pays lower wages than manufacturing.
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