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Dalton Thompson, CCED Student Intern for Spring 2022

My name is Dalton Thompson, and I am a current Senior at UCA studying Political Science and Public Administration. After graduating, I plan on attending law school and earning my Juris Doctor degree as well as a Masters of Public Administration so that I can become a Public Defender and be a resource of change for people in my community, wherever I land.

Currently, I serve as the first openly-gay President of the UCA Chapter of the Arkansas Young Democrats and as a State Committee Delegate for Faulkner County in the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

I’ve never felt a calling to a profession that wasn’t one of service. In the past, I’ve worked multiple service-oriented jobs and been a dedicated volunteer in my community.  Since 2014, I have spent my summer breaks at Camp Aldersgate in Little Rock, a camp dedicated to providing children with disabilities and chronic illnesses a summer camp experience they could not receive anywhere else! I’ve also worked in multiple healthcare facilities and seen firsthand the impact the coronavirus has had on communities in Arkansas; I worked as a Patient Transporter at St. Vincent’s in Little Rock, providing support for doctors and nursing staff, including COVID-19 units, in a time of serious uncertainty and fear. Today, I am a Pharmacy Technician in Conway and provide care for the sick and vulnerable in our community as we continue our fight against the coronavirus.

Few things matter more to me than my ultimate goal: giving back to the communities that have raised and shaped me. I proudly hail from the Windy City (Go Cubs, Go!), but remain just as proud of my family’s roots in Arkansas. I intend to use my education and professional skills to do all I can to support and strengthen my home and community in every way possible.

by Dalton Thompson

Taking the pulse of the people: Developing a community survey

The following post originally appeared as an article in the March 2021 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

The start of a new community initiative can feel monumental. Our team at the University of
Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED) recommends
the first step in any community-wide planning be the distribution of a community survey. Conducting a community survey engages citizens and provides direction.

A successful survey captures feedback from a diverse population and provides a healthy sample of data. Reaching this goal involves teamwork, creative marketing and data analysis. After conducting surveys in several communities across the state, our team suggests you consider these steps when developing your survey.

Develop a leadership team
Input from a diverse leadership team ensures the content and distribution of the survey encompasses your whole community. Involving voices from across your community will also assist in more accurate data collection.

The leadership team was a vital component when the city of Lonoke launched the Kick Start Lonoke Action Plan in 2016. Ryan Biles, co-chair of the Kick Start Lonoke Executive Committee, emphasized the importance of an inclusive steering committee.

“When you successfully build a steering committee where diverse voices are heard, then you have a core group that will help you define the important questions and priorities of your work together moving forward,” Biles said.

The leadership team will help engage as many community members as possible. Every citizen’s interests are addressed when a spectrum of individuals is part of the planning process.

Develop the content
A few factors influence the content of your survey. First, determine the survey’s geographic focus: city- or county-wide. The reach of the community survey depends on your community’s specific needs and the data you want to collect. This will be different for every community depending on your goals for the survey.

When CCED worked with Hot Spring County to conduct a community survey, the leadership team decided to focus their planning efforts county-wide.

County Judge Dennis Thornton explained why they made that decision. “Hot Spring County is made up of so many wonderful communities, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to express what their specific needs were, knowing that not all communities would share the same needs,” he said. “For example, Bismarck expressed a need for incorporation, while Malvern desired a civic center.”

After you define the geographic scope of your survey, consider the questions to pose to the community. Questions can be serious or lighthearted in tone, open-ended or multiple choice. They can be general or focus on a specific project.

Demographic information is essential, so consider including questions regarding race, gender, age, employment and geographic location. This data provides an even deeper understanding of your community, thus ensuring every citizen’s needs are addressed.

We suggest including questions where citizens can share their top community and economic development opportunities (education, job creation, health care, education, downtown development, tourism, etc.). We also suggest including an open-ended question that offers space for citizens to share their unique ideas and opinions.

One question our team likes to include in every survey is: “Which words describe the personality of your community?” Survey takers select from a list that includes adjectives such as “high tech,” “scenic” and “small town.” We find that this question offers a peek into how your citizens perceive your community and how they communicate about it to outsiders.

Finally, always include a call to action on the survey. Give citizens the opportunity for involvement in the new community initiative or planning process. At the end of the survey, develop an optional section to collect basic contact information to cultivate citizen interest. You can refer to these self-identified citizen volunteers when you begin your community work.

Collect responses
Collecting responses for a community survey involves creative marketing ideas. The goal is to collect as many responses as possible, as well as to engage a variety of citizens. The survey should be visible and easily accessible to the public.

The city of Lonoke is a great example of clever survey marketing. In 2016, they included a paper copy of their community survey in the city’s water bills. They found this tactic to be so effective that water bills are now a major piece of communication in the implementation of the Lonoke 2022 Strategic Action Plan.

“If we truly want participation, we have to employ an approach that is as diverse as our population,” Biles said.

Social media is also a popular medium of communication. Mat Faulkner of Think Idea Studio led the marketing for Searcy’s community survey in 2020. Faulkner suggests utilizing video for social media marketing. “The video format informs and engages
better than text and stagnant graphics,” he shared. “So be excited, use people in videos that the community will recognize and have a lot of fun with it.”

We find that word of mouth is the most effective form of communication. Challenge your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to spread the word about your community survey. Share the online survey link or paper copy at your local businesses, restaurants, schools, churches, nonprofit agencies and community events.

Analyze the data
Completing your survey is only step one in a big process. At your survey’s conclusion, you are left with a gold mine of data. Find someone who can analyze that data effectively and identify trends. Use the information to make informed decisions to move forward in your planning process. Compile the data into a digestible format, like easy-to-read charts, to share back with your community.

A community survey can be a tool for widespread citizen engagement and can provide direction for new projects. By focusing on building an inclusive leadership team, quality content, inventive marketing techniques and in-depth data analysis, you will capture a rich sampling of perspectives.

If you need assistance in developing a community survey, you can email the University of Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development at
cced@uca.edu or call 501-450-5269.

By Emily Cooper Yates

Peering Through the Lens: A Look at Contribution

The following post was written by guest blogger and CCED Fall 2021 Intern, Halei Boyles.

A massive stack of papers in one hand, a series of fake name tags in the other, I looked at the daunting three tables full of packets. Of course, this task and fake name tags had a purpose; the CCED Poverty Simulation. 

The Poverty Simulation is a hands-on immersive experience created to look at the realities of poverty. The zip packets contain different scenarios or situations that one may encounter while looking through the scope of poverty, each one creating a new viewpoint for the participants as they go through the motions of the simulation. Jump-starting the critical thinking process, some participants start out with advantages of money or benefits, while others are given nothing to begin with. 

As I was tasked with the reorganization of the kits from the previous session, I sorted through each file meticulously, reading through scenarios that required critical thinking about the realities of poverty. I couldn’t help but connect it to my own life and courses that I have taken in my four years at UCA. 

I’m currently taking a course called Public Policy Analysis and a requirement of the class is to gather research on a community based need, reflecting on service activities that help gain an understanding and sense of civic responsibility. In my sorting, checking, and counting of papers, I found that I was thinking of this class the entire time. 

Poverty isn’t just a community problem, it’s global. A great part of the CCED’s mission as well is to build consensus to achieve community goals. So with this, I found a deep appreciation for the CCED and the awareness it looks to bring to others not only in Conway, but in the state. What part could I play as a simple college student in the grand act of community and economic development? It only took me 26 files and stressing about missing paper clips to realize that maybe- just maybe, I was already playing my part. As in, we are all playing our part! 

As citizens, staff, and college students, we are playing an important role in our community just by being ourselves. We contribute as a whole to the world around us as we gather a deeper understanding and critical view of what is around us. The Poverty Simulation takes an unafraid realistic stance on poverty and how we impact society. This statement rings true, as I wasn’t even a participant playing the game, I was just simply reorganizing. Though the issues of the world are giant, even the tiniest of communities can take a bow on the stage for their contribution. Go on, take a bow!

Arkansas Economic Developers and Chamber Executives Conference 2021 – Our Biggest Takeaways

Last month, the CCED Team attended the annual Arkansas Economic Developers and Chamber Executives (AEDCE) Conference in Jonesboro, AR. While there, we attended informative panels, listened to engaging speakers, strengthened existing partnerships and built new ones. 

Each member of the CCED Team reflected on their time at the conference. Read on for their main takeaways: 

From Shelby:

“If you want to be successful, you need to look like the places where decision-makers live.” 

This statement kicked off the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce “#ChambersSoWhite” session at the Arkansas Economic Developers and Chamber Executives 2021 conference. During the session, Chamber staff members (Cecilia Elliott, Corey Parks, Leo Cummings III, Adena White, and Brad Lacy) shared information about the City of Conway and why it was important to their organization to intentionally recruit diverse staff members (and why it’s important for all organizations to look at their staff and determine if it’s reflective of the diverse citizens in their own communities). 

I felt this session was important because it held a mirror to the realm of CED in Arkansas and asked, “Do we reflect who we serve?” The fact is that, according to that latest census data, the 2020 U.S. population was more racially and ethnically diverse than measured in 2010. And yet, not enough progress has been made within leadership in our communities and organizations in creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) workplaces and spaces. The Conway Chamber staff shared their personal reflections (as Black CED professionals) and prompted the (primarily white) audience to focus on understanding, connecting with, and respecting people who are different from themselves. They hit the nail on the head when sharing, “We must be more intentional about diversity and inclusion.” Overall I felt this session was needed during the conference and created a space for participants to share, learn, and consider ways to create those DEI focused spaces and places.

From Dylan: 

My biggest takeaway from the conference was just how much the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the chamber and economic development profession and how it can serve as a kind of reset for chambers moving forward. We heard from a speaker named Kyle Sexton who is an author and consultant that focuses on chamber membership and marketing strategies. Sexton advocated for a rebuilding of the chamber membership model that involved multiple price points and an increased focus on creating relationships with members instead of being purely transactional. Sexton also offered a special Q&A session where participants were encouraged to share their challenges and pain points as a chamber executives in a disruptive economic environment. Sexton offered advice on how best to move forward in those situations and allowed for discussion between participants to create connections between folks at the conference. It was interesting for me to hear what chamber executives are struggling with and I now feel that I have a better understanding of what they’re dealing with day-to-day and how we can better serve them and their communities in our work

From Emily:

The session I found most interesting was a panel discussion about the rise in remote work. Especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more companies are transitioning all employees and functions to a work from home or remote work format. Panelists included Mike Harvey of Northwest Arkansas Council, Clint O’Neal of Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and Alan More of Ritter Communications, moderated by JD Lowery of Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas.

Something the panelists emphasized were the opportunities for population growth offered by remote work. The idea of “live here, work anywhere”. If workers are no longer tied to an office, they can live and work wherever they please, even in an entirely different state. As such, a movement has emerged to encourage remote workers to make the move across state lines. States like Missouri, Oklahoma, and yes, Arkansas now offer remote work incentives, even including cash offers. Remote work offers not only great opportunities for workers, but for economic development as well!

Arkansas Economic Developers and Chamber Executives Conference 2021: Our Main Take Aways

“If you want to be successful, you need to look like the places where decision-makers live.” 

This statement kicked off the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce “#ChambersSoWhite” session at the Arkansas Economic Developers and Chamber Executives 2021 conference. During the session, Chamber staff members (Cecilia Elliott, Corey Parks, Leo Cummings III, Adena White, and Brad Lacy) shared information about the City of Conway and why it was important to their organization to intentionally recruit diverse staff members (and why it’s important for all organizations to look at their staff and determine if it’s reflective of the diverse citizens in their own communities). I felt this session was important because it held a mirror to the realm of CED in Arkansas and asked, “Do we reflect who we serve?” The fact is that, according to that latest census data, the 2020 U.S. population was more racially and ethnically diverse than measured in 2010. And yet, not enough progress has been made within leadership in our communities and organizations in creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive (DEI) workplaces and spaces. The Conway Chamber staff shared their personal reflections (as Black CED professionals) and prompted the (primarily white) audience to focus on understanding, connecting with, and respecting people who are different from themselves. They hit the nail on the head when sharing, “We must be more intentional about diversity and inclusion.” Overall I felt this session was needed during the conference and created a space for participants to share, learn, and consider ways to create those DEI focused spaces and places.

Sustainable Communities: Best practices from the Natural State

The following post originally appeared as an article in the February 2021 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

Since 1995, the official nickname of Arkansas has been the Natural State, which appropriately describes its natural beauty from the Delta to the Ozark Mountains. Protecting this natural beauty and our environment has become an increased focus for local governments, and communities across the state have made a commitment to keep Arkansas natural. Going green not only serves the purpose of protecting our environment but often proves to be economically beneficial. Clarksville and Fayetteville are two cities of many in Arkansas that are taking action to save money and the planet.

Solar powered cities
When thinking about sustainable communities, you might first look at how your city gets its power. Last year, Clarksville became the first Arkansas city to fully power its city buildings via solar energy. According to the International Energy Agency, solar power became the cheapest form of energy production in 2020, so for Clarksville the move made economic sense.

Clarksville partnered with Scenic Hill Solar and opened its first 6.5-megawatt solar plant in 2018. In 2020, the city completed its second solar plant that provided enough additional energy to close the gap, allowing Clarksville city buildings to run on 100-percent solar power.

According to Clarksville Connected Utilities, the estimated cost savings from switching to solar energy will be $500,000 annually, and the money freed up in the city budget could be devoted to other projects such as infrastructure improvements and fiber-optic expansion. This move also offers an estimated $5 million in future economic development opportunities to the city of Clarksville and provides a clean-energy option to businesses looking to meet their sustainability goals.

The city of Clarksville’s economic developer, Steve Houserman, sees this move as a proud achievement for his community that can be replicated by others. “Clarksville is a city that always punches above its weight,” Houserman said. “In order to remain competitive in the 21st century, we seized on opportunities that lead to economic growth and prosperity within our community. Securing our energy independence with a municipally-owned solar plant is not only a down payment toward our future selves, but a shining example for the rest of ‘Small Town America’ to follow.”

Not only are the solar plants economically beneficial to Clarksville, but they are also expected to reduce carbon emissions from energy consumption by over 300,000 metric tons over the next 30 years. As seen with many sustainability projects, environmental and
economic benefits are not mutually exclusive.

Sustainability goals
In Fayetteville, city leadership has taken steps to consider the environmental footprint of all city activities. Since 2016, Fayetteville has provided an annual sustainability report card to share their progress on goals in seven categories, including the built environment, natural systems, climate and energy, economy and jobs, equity and empowerment, health and safety,
and education, arts and community.

In 2017, the city council passed a resolution to support an energy action plan that created additional sustainability goals. The following year, the city partnered with Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today’s Power, Inc. to construct solar arrays to move their clean energy usage from 16 percent to 72 percent.

These efforts resulted in Fayetteville being recognized as an “A-List City” for leading on environmental performance by the Carbon Disclosure Project. Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan was also selected as one of 12 mayors across the county to receive the Climate Protection Award from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Solving a complex issue like climate change presents opportunities for growth, Jordan said. “Climate change poses a very serious threat but also a significant economic opportunity for our city and our nation. Fayetteville is committed to working with leaders of other cities, states, universities and businesses to combat climate change by supporting a low-carbon economy and creating good jobs in energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Sustaining your community
Going green can make your community sustainable in more ways than one. Protecting the natural beauty of Arkansas allows future generations to enjoy the outdoors, and the cost savings of these sustainability measures help to ensure that these communities will remain financially secure. Keeping the Natural State natural requires an intentional effort by community leaders, and the positive outcomes will be felt for years to come.

By Dylan Edgell

Art and Community-Building: Inspiration from Art House in Jonesboro, AR

While some people may think of art as a solitary, inwardly reflective activity, this could not be further from the truth. Public art projects like murals and other installations can create lots of visual interest in communities and encourage residents and visitors to engage with a city’s physical space. Community events based around art, such as gallery exhibitions and music festivals, can help cities brand themselves as fun and engaging places to live. There are lots of inventive ways to utilize art in community-building. Here is one that may generate some inspiration.

In June of 2019, nurse practitioner Angie Jones opened Art House in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Art House is an art gallery and event space located in Jonesboro’s downtown area. Art House allows local artists (both professional and hobbyist) to display their art for purchase and collects a small fee for display if the art is sold. This business model makes Art House unique as a community-building tool, because it isn’t often that art galleries make an effort to be so inclusive about what is displayed. Art House encourages participation in arts-based activities because it allows every member of the community that has a passion for art to display their creations.

Art House hosts art shows every month, and its come-one-come-all approach to exhibition seems to be bringing community members together; Art House’s “Event Gallery” page on their website features smiling Jonesboro citizens perusing the gallery space in groups and posing with art they have created or purchased. 

Beyond exhibiting local art, Art House hosts classes regularly, teaching community members a variety of artistic mediums. The gallery has even taken its work outside of its physical space, spearheading the creation of a “selfie wall.” Art House helped recruit five local artists to create a collection of small murals in downtown Jonesboro. Perhaps more impressively, this project was completed in August of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it helped encourage citizens to interact with the downtown space on social media by taking pictures of themselves posing in front of the murals. 

Art House represents only one model of using art as a community-building tool. Luckily, there are endless possibilities for communities to take advantage of the way art brings people together. How can your community incorporate art into its social fabric?

By Greta Hacker

Conference Opportunity: Rise Up Weekend (FREE Registration!)

Did you know that the 2020 election marked record highs in youth voter turnout? An estimated 55% of youth aged 18-29 voted in the 2020 election, which marks an increase of 9% over 2016 voting records. On the heels of this historic achievement, the youth civic engagement nonprofit Andrew Goodman Foundation will host their virtual National Civic Leadership Training Summit: Rise Up Weekend. Held on June 25, 2021, this event celebrates and encourages the power of youth voting and civic participation. It provides opportunities for youth, community leaders, policymakers, and voting rights advocates to learn about protecting and enhancing youth voting.

Though the increase in youth turnout was promising, many pieces of legislation aimed to decrease ease of access to voting have emerged in the wake of these advancements. More than 350 bills aimed at making voter ID laws stricter, limiting mail-in and early voting, and complicating the voter registration process have sprang up around the country as of April 2021.

Rise Up Weekend focuses on empowering young people to maintain their voices in public discourse and stand against voter suppression. The event features panel discussions and keynote addresses from elected officials, nonprofit leaders, and celebrated civil rights advocates. Any community official interested in nurturing the civic participation of young people in their area would find resources and inspiration in this training event.

To find out more information about Rise Up Weekend and to register for the event, click here.

Registration is free.

By Greta Hacker

Moving the needle on equity

The following post originally appeared as an article in the January 2021 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

2020 has been a year for the history books. Not only have we been contending with the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black individuals which sparked protests that have highlighted the importance of addressing the issues of race and inequality. To develop a better future for our citizens, children, grandchildren and beyond, we must recognize the importance of promoting and creating equity in our communities.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation defines equity as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair” and shares that to be achieved and sustained, equity needs to be thought of as a structural and systemic concept.

As we thought about equity and social justice, our team at the University of Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development asked ourselves how we could leverage our resources and skills to be more intentional in our work. Knowing our strength lies in convening and training, we launched the inaugural Arkansas Racial Equity Summit on October 8, 2020. With support from our partners at ARcare, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, more than 200 Arkansas leaders came together to learn about the history of racial injustice in Arkansas, information on what inequities exist today (in health, education, wealth/income and the criminal justice system), and participated in an interactive discussion on what we can do to counteract those inequities to create a better future.

The Summit covered a plethora of resources available to leaders about equity and social justice, but here are five tangible first steps you can consider to promote and create equity in your community or organization:

1. Celebrate the National Day of Racial Healing:
In 1995, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation established the National Day of Racial Healing as part of its Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) process, which was a restructuring of its funding priorities to promote healing as a critical path for ending racial bias and creating a society in which all children can thrive. In January 2020, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson became the first governor to issue a gubernatorial proclamation in observance of the National Day of Racial Healing. One of the goals for the 2021 observance is for Arkansas to become the first state where all of its mayors, county judges and school superintendents issue proclamations, along with Governor Hutchinson. You can view a sample proclamation in this issue on page 15.

2. Take the Harvard implicit bias test:
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you didn’t know about. Taking the test is a good way of becoming more aware of implicit biases that may be playing a role in your community or your life. You can take the test at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit.

3. Utilize the Equity Assistance Center:
The Equity Assistance Center (EAC) in the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education has the responsibility of assisting and assuring that all school districts comply with state and federal regulations that prohibit discrimination. The EAC also offers resources to promote and develop equity in our schools. Learn more at dese.ade.arkansas.gov/divisions/legal/equity-assistance.

4. Review and implement the Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide from the Annie E. Casey Foundation:
The seven steps outlined in the Action Guide represent a set of tools that can be utilized to incorporate race equity and inclusion. As shared in the guide, “Following these steps will help ensure that strategies to help children, families and communities are informed from the beginning by the knowledge and data on race that we know are critical to achieving results for a whole population.” You can view the guide at www.aecf.org/resources/race-equity-and-inclusion-action-guide.

5. Review and implement the Municipal Action Guide on Racial Equity from the National League of Cities (NLC):
The NLC’s Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative compiled six steps municipal leaders can follow to begin improving equity throughout your city and creating better outcomes for everyone in your community. You can read the guide at www.nlc.org/wp-content/ uploads/2017/10/NLC-MAG-on-Racial-Equity.pdf.

These are just a few ways you can begin to move the needle on racial equity in your community. If you are interested in learning more, all resources from the Summit can be found at www.uca.edu/cced/arkansasracial-equity-summit. As CCED continues to develop training and programming centered on equity, please reach out to our team if you want more information at sfiegel@uca.edu or 501-450-5269.

By Shelby Fiegel

Guest Blog: Intermodal Freight Transport and Transloading – A Brief Overview

The following blog post is written by guest blogger, Dr. Michael S. Yoder.

Followers of business and economic media, especially that which is oriented toward transportation, are likely to encounter the term “intermodal” on a daily basis.  The COVID-19 pandemic is associated with notable disruptions in production supply chains and in shipments of raw materials and finished goods, shedding light on the role of intermodal freight transport.  Furthermore, the Ever Given, the giant container ship that ran aground in the Suez Canal in late March 2021, blocking all shipment through the canal for several days, has attracted the attention of economic developers interested in the vulnerabilities of global shipments of manufactured goods, components, parts, and even crops and raw materials that involve intermodal or transload activities at some point. In short, the transfer of cargo from one shipping mode to another remains crucial despite the pandemic-related global economic downturn.

As a starting point, I will briefly define and describe intermodal freight transport and a related concept, transload activity.  In its simplest form, intermodal shipping is the movement of freight by two or more transportation modes: truck, ship, rail, or aircraft. All too often, however, the term is loosely used.  The most widely accepted definition refers specifically to the transfer of shipping containers, and yet, the transfer between different transport modes of bulk cargoes not shipped in containers, referred to as transloading, is often included among examples of intermodal shipping. The imprecise mixing of concepts is done mostly for the purposes of promoting a given transfer facility, or a highway that might link up with one or more rail lines.   Bulk cargoes include steel coils, rods and bars, grains, timber and pulp, sand, fertilizers, and “aggregates” which are construction materials like asphalt and gravel.  These loads are often transferred between barge, truck or rail, but such processes technically do not constitute intermodal shipments when no shipping containers are involved.

I first became interested in the topic of intermodal facilities while researching cargo transport infrastructure in the Fort Smith area and in the interior of Mexico.  In both cases I was interested in ways, either currently existing or planned, that these places link up with maritime ports and other larger transshipment centers. In the Mexican case, such facilities in San Luís Potosí, Silao (in the State of Guanajuato), and Monterrey are referred to as “puertos secos” (“dry ports”) and are regarded as important cargo handling sites that expand the reach of maritime container ports such as Altamira and Veracruz on the Gulf Coast, and Manzanillo and Lázaro Cárdenas on the Pacific Coast.  Those three dry ports function in much the same way as interior intermodal facilities in Chicago/Joliet, Dallas/Fort Worth, Memphis, Kansas City, and Charlotte, which transfer containers between rail and trucks, and ultimately link to large maritime ports such as Los Angeles/Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Savannah, and Norfolk. Upon researching the proposed “Ports-to-Plains” cargo corridor that is expected to link Mexico to Canada via West Texas and the Great Plains, I found that in the promotion of the corridor, stakeholders boast of “intermodal facilities” along the corridor.  I found, however, that only the border city of Laredo has the crane infrastructure, or “intermodal ramp,” to efficiently handle containers. The rest of the facilities along the corridor where truck and rail interface enable the transfer of bulk cargoes rather than containers. Such transload facilities of West Texas along Ports-to-Plains are located in Lubbock, Big Spring, and San Angelo, all three of which provide public-sector support for the facilities.

Photo by Dr. Yoder – a rail transload facility in Gonzales, TX

In Arkansas, most facilities that transfer cargo between different modes are adjacent or close to navigable rivers.  The Arkansas River ports of Van Buren, Fort Smith, Little Rock and Pine Bluff transfer bulk cargoes between barge and either rail or truck.  The only true functioning intermodal facility in the state is the large (600 acre) inland port at Marion, immediately west of Memphis, where containers are transferred between truck and rail. Port Little Rock has the capability to transfer containers between barge and either rail or truck, but that market does not yet exist. The facility is one of the largest in the state to handle bulk cargoes. Several stakeholders in transportation and economic development in the Fort Smith Metropolitan Area are actively trying to expand the handling capabilities of barges in Van Buren to include containers, and to transfer them between barge and either truck or rail.  I am told that years ago an intermodal ramp where containers were lifted by cranes to streamline cargo handling between rail and trucks, was operated by Kansas City Southern Railroad and located just west of the Oklahoma state line near Sallisaw, but it had been removed for insufficient demand, to the disappointment of economic developers and shippers desiring intermodal capabilities in western Arkansas.  To be successful, an expansion of the local cargo transport system to handle containers will require a high enough volume transported each year.  Time (and economic impact studies) will tell whether the large corporations of Northwest Arkansas can provide enough container traffic to sustain an intermodal facility, as proponents of the expanded Van Buren site expect.

Why would intermodal shipping, transloading, interior (dry) ports and related topics be of interest to economic developers and related stakeholders?  Site selectors continually emphasize that one of the first questions asked about localities under consideration for investment relates to transportation connectivity and infrastructure.  Many companies require that two or more transportation modes intersect close by.  The movements of bulk cargoes are maintaining their pre-pandemic momentum, in large part because of expected increases in construction, including the transport infrastructure touted by the Biden Administration.  The boom in e-commerce and goods shipped by containers will likely remain, which may very well result in new intermodal ramps to enhance linkages of the country’s interior with maritime container ports.  But the threshold number of containers necessary to sustain an intermodal facility is high, so such facilities tend to be spread out.    According to transport media, industrial park development is expected to expand in places close to both types of facilities to a greater extent as the economy recovers.  Communities seeking to propel their economic development ought to take note.

Dr. Michael S. Yoder
Research Fellow, Department of Geography and the Environment,
University of Texas at Austin;
Retired Associate Professor of Geography, UCA