Destination Downtown 2022- Our Biggest Takeaways

During September 15-16th, CCED Assistant Director Dylan Edgell and Project Coordinator Michael Hudson attended the Destination Downtown in North Little Rock, AR. While there, they attended informative panels, listened to engaging speakers, strengthened existing partnerships, and built new ones with economic developers from Louisiana and Mississippi.

Both Dylan and Michael on their time at the conference and here are their main takeaways:

From Dylan:

My biggest takeaway from Destination Downtown 2022 was from Stephen Luoni’s presentation titled “Main Street: Not Just a Collection of Facades, but an Urban Ecosystem”. Luoni is the Director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center and his views on urban design, placemaking, and community design were incredibly interesting and had me hopeful for the future of cities in Arkansas by looking at what we had in the past.

The most interesting parts for me were when Luoni showed historic photos and maps from major cities in Arkansas including Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Pine Bluff to show how dense the downtown areas and neighborhoods around the downtown areas were. That density allowed for a thriving downtown economic infrastructure, including a robust network of railcars and trolleys that could serve people living, working, and enjoying the downtown area. There were photos of Downtown Little Rock in 1910 that showed huge multi-use buildings and multiple trolley tracks for a town of only 45,000 at the time.

Currently, most zoning codes do not allow for the type of dense development that could help build back downtown areas but many cities and towns across the United States are responding to this issue by changing or adding flexibility to their zoning codes. It was sad to see the changes in downtown areas in Arkansas and the type of urbanism that we had at the turn of the century, but it makes me hopeful because if we’ve done it before we can do it again. 


From Michael:

The session that captured my attention the most at Destination Downtown 2022 was The Grumpy Rabbit: A Homemade Recipe for Hometown Success by a panel of speakers that included Ryan Biles, Gina Wiertelak, Natalie Biles, Stacey Breezeel, Brantley Snipes, and Will Staley. Perhaps it was due to me running late and not eating breakfast that morning that really sparked my interest in listening to how a restaurant was created during COVID; but, what really drew me in was listening to how the brand was created, the amount of work that was required to gather public support, a license to sell alcohol, the renovations, and countless other things that would’ve stopped anyone else from opening the restaurant. 

The Grumpy Rabbit is located in the beautiful historic downtown district of Lonoke, Arkansas. The building itself dates back to 1905 and has been completely renovated to include as much of the original wood inside as possible. That within itself faced issues due to COVID-19 impacting construction, workers, supplies, and more. However, the Grumpy Rabbit team continued hopping forward. By partnering with Thrive, Inc. the Grumpy Rabbit owners, Gina and Jim Wiertelak were able to focus on how they would create an environment that is welcoming to all while Thrive focused on the branding and interior design. 

The Grumpy Rabbit faced another challenge by trying to obtain a license to sell alcoholic drinks in a dry county. While facing the usual critics, The Grumpy Rabbit had to be innovative in how they would market themselves as fine dining instead of as a sports bar, as the rumors stated they would be. By consulting a Little Rock attorney, they were able to determine that by purchasing a non-profit business they then would be able to sell alcoholic beverages in their restaurant. It was incredibly uplifting to hear how a rural town implemented positive change into a community through a restaurant.  


City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article September 2022

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- September 2022 edition.

Identifying Your Community’s Moon Mission 

By Dylan Edgell


The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED) hosted the 36th Annual Community Development Institute (CDI) August 1-5 in Conway. Each year, community developers, elected officials and community leaders make the trip to UCA’s campus for a week of immersive training covering a wide range of topics related to community and economic development. CDI is a three-year training program consisting of one week of training per year. Graduates of CDI qualify to take the Professional Community and Economic Developer (PCED) exam for certification. 

One of the special events during the week of CDI is the keynote presentation, which was delivered by John Carroll, the executive director of City Leadership, an organization that seeks to change the lives of Memphis, Tennessee, residents through building and developing leaders. City Leadership is the organization behind the Choose901, Teach901, Serve901 and Give901 campaigns that work to recruit talented individuals, develop leaders and organizations, and catalyze collaborative projects for the benefit of the city of Memphis. 

Since starting these initiatives, City Leadership has provided leadership development assistance to 2,515 Memphians. Carroll shared this progressive spirit in his keynote address, emphasizing that everyone has the power to create broad and bold visions for the future of their communities. 

Carroll referenced the United States government’s persistent efforts to win the Space Race in the 1960s. He urged CDI 2022 participants to identify their own “moon mission” in their community. Carroll noted that the time between President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing the moon mission on May 25, 1961, and Americans landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, was 2,979 days. When it was announced, the decision to go to the moon within a decade may have felt too ambitious, too big and too broad to be accomplished. It would require engineers learning and creating new technologies and experiencing multiple failures along the way. But accomplishing big and bold things requires big and bold thinking. 

Carroll challenged CDI participants to look forward 2,979 days into the future and imagine what their community will look like on September 29, 2030. He Photo by Dylan Edgell Using the famous photo astronaut Buzz Aldrin shot of his footprint on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, John Carroll encouraged CDI 2022 participants to collaborate and create bold “moon missions” in their communities. September 2022 39 encouraged them to bring the energy and long-term vision required for the original moon mission into their work as community leaders. 

This prompt raises important questions for the future of our communities as we move further into the 21st century. What plans do we need to make to build stronger communities, who do we need to bring to the table, and how will we engage and uplift the next generation of leaders? 

Lonoke Mayor Trae Reed, a CDI 2022 participant, said he appreciated the future-focused keynote message, and he highlighted Carroll’s emphasis on collaborative decision-making. “No one person can effect change by themselves,” he said. “We all know it takes a village, which is why everyone in a position of influence needs a strong and reliable network.” 

Finding a moon mission in your community is a great way to spark interest, energy and action around community and economic development initiatives. Not everyone in your community has this long-term vision so it’s important that local leaders take the time to collaboratively create and set the vision, express what the future could look like and bring others into the fold to make it happen. 

To learn more about John Carroll and City Leadership, visit CDI 2023 will be held July 31-August 4, 2023, at UCA. If you are interested in learning more about the Community Development Institute, visit

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article August 2022

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- August 2022 edition.

Balancing big dreams with hard work: Lessons from Greenbrier 

By Greta Hacker


The city of Greenbrier in many ways exemplifies both the joys and troubles of small-town living in Arkansas. It has a top-rated school system and its citizens form a close-knit, family friendly community. However, like many rural communities, it has struggled over the years with its transportation infrastructure and a lack of a downtown area. These challenges have only become more apparent as Greenbrier’s population has grown. 

Over the last five years, Greenbrier has demonstrated that it is up to the task of capitalizing on its assets and areas for improvement. The city has made great strides in economic and community development, and recent wins have made big impacts. Its recent progress serves as a good example of how any city can take steps to improve the quality of life in their communities. 

Greenbrier’s recent community development efforts began when they implemented recommendations from a First Impressions Tour (FIT) conducted in 2017 in partnership with the University of Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development. Through the FIT, Greenbrier leaders received a broad assessment of the city’s strengths and weaknesses. Some of the suggestions for improvement that emerged from this report included the development of sidewalks, improving recreation facilities, increasing wayfinding signage and engaging in beautification efforts. 

Greenbrier city officials went right to work on implementing these recommendations in the following years. Greenbrier Events Center Director Shellie O’Quinn noted that throughout the community development process, Greenbrier succeeded because they tempered idealism with realism. “One thing I love about our current leadership is that they seize opportunities when they arise,” she said. “They dream big but back it up with realistic expectations. The amazing facilities that we enjoy in our community today are a direct result of hard work and dedication to those big dreams.”

These big dreams include several large improvement projects, including 55-acre Matthews Park, a new fire station, a new city building that houses Greenbrier’s parks and recreation department and chamber of commerce, and a 4,000 square-foot events center. In 2018 residents passed a sales tax increase that funded the construction of the city park and fire station. The projects wrapped in 2020 and 2021, respectively. 

The creation of Matthews Park addressed an important need in the community by functioning as a central gathering place, said Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce President Ashton Pruitt. “Greenbrier does not have a traditional downtown with a lively entertainment Public input helped guide city leaders when choosing the park’s amenities. Greenbrier doesn’t have a traditional city center, and Matthews Park, completed in 2020, helps make up for that by giving residents a place to gather. Photos courtesy city of Greenbrier August 2022 35 district. Matthews Park allowed us to have a special central location for recreation, celebrations and events. It really brought the community together.” The park has served as the location for several large community events, including an art festival and Glisten in Greenbrier, a month-long holiday celebration featuring a tree-lighting ceremony, skating rink and light display. 

Gaining community buy-in was a key ingredient in Greenbrier’s success throughout the process of developing Matthews Park. “It was important to us to ask the people what they would want in a park,” said Greenbrier Mayor Sammy Joe Hartwick. “We visited groups including senior citizens and school groups to get their feedback, and we included Greenbrier citizens on our city park board.” 

O’Quinn also emphasized the importance of partnerships in Greenbrier’s achievements. “The city of Greenbrier works very closely with the Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce and the Greenbrier School District,” she said. “Most of the progress in the community can be attributed to the collaboration between these amazing institutions. They share many resources that help ease the growing pains of our community.” 

One of Greenbrier’s current projects includes improving its streets and sidewalks. Mayor Hartwick noted that the city was proud to partner with the Arkansas Department of Transportation in widening its intersections and installing turning lanes and turning arrows in high-traffic areas. Hartwick also highlighted a sidewalk project connecting Highway 65 to Greenbrier High School. 

Finally, Greenbrier is taking steps to plan for future growth by conducting a community survey. City officials will eventually use this citizen input to guide the development of a citywide strategic plan. 

“Our citizens have been given a great opportunity to share their dreams and participate in the process of creating a unified vision as well as working to make it come to fruition,” O’Quinn said. “Having the buy-in of our community will be essential to realizing the ultimate ‘big dream’ of shaping a future Greenbrier that is even bigger and better than any of us individually could ever imagine.”City & Town, August 2022 Vol. 78, No. 08

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article July 2022

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- July 2022 edition.

Hello from Magnolia! 

How Magnolia is using their new brand to keep them top-of-mind

By Michael Hudson


As you travel throughout the Natural State this summer, take in the personality and identity of the cities and towns you pass through. Each community in our state is unique and has diverse assets that contribute to making it a great place to live, work and play. When considering how to best display everything our communities have to offer, one of the greatest tools we can utilize is the development of a community brand. Identifying and marketing a community brand sends a cohesive message on behalf of your community, engages visitors and generates community pride. Community brands also establish a positive first impression for potential new businesses, residents and tourists in the digital world. 

Magnolia city leaders saw the need to create a community brand to promote the city to external audiences and develop a sense of identity internally. The city partnered with the University of Central Arkansas’ Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED), Thrive Inc. and Entergy Arkansas to create a new community brand and logo. 

Magnolia’s Economic Development Executive Director Ellie Baker recognized that “those who wanted to connect a business or item to Magnolia would have to use any one of the thousands of [magnolia] blossom images from the internet. There was no consistency of an image being used across the board to purposefully identify Magnolia.” With the new logo and branding, Magnolia portrays a sense of unity and belonging within the community using cohesive branding materials, which are free and available for anyone to use. 

Creating the brand 

It is impossible for any city or town to be able to market itself to the world as a place to come work, live and play without knowing who they are first, said Ryan Biles, Thrive Inc.’s director of development. When creating a community brand, the first step is “to know what you believe about yourself before you can tell that story to others.” 

In Magnolia’s case, community stakeholders met with Thrive to develop an idea of who Magnolia is. To undertake a major project like rebranding your town, it is imperative that “every community have at its heart people who are proud to be from there,” Biles said. The stakeholders then formed a design team that met with Thrive, CCED and Entergy every two weeks via Zoom to ensure that the project did not lose its momentum. During those meetings, Thrive conducted workshops that extracted the “emotional essence” of what each participant brings to the table. By understanding how the stakeholders feel about their community, Thrive was better able to distill what made Magnolia unique and important through the eyes of its own citizens.

Once the brand was developed, Magnolia and Thrive strategically involved high school students in the unveiling of the new brand. The students painted a mural in the city’s Square Park that displays key elements of the brand. This process also gave the students real-world experience as artists. Mayor Parnell Vann was ecstatic that Magnolia youth were so involved in the creation of the brand. “This project brought pride and buy-in from our youth, and anytime you can do that with a city project it is a success,” he said. 

Getting the brand out there 

Magnolia is incorporating the new brand into city departments and encourages citizens to use the new branding for free. Businesses are also encouraged to use the new branding and can contact city hall for the marketing materials. The city will continue to implement its new branding with wayfinding signage, future projects and a new movable mural to be displayed, according to Baker, “wherever there is an empty spot to fill.”

Every community can learn from Magnolia’s branding process. Some key tips include: 

  • Before your community begins to design and develop a new branding initiative, study your town to understand who you are and what your story is. 
  • Gather as many perspectives as you can so that everyone has a voice in the process. 
  • Create a consensus on what should be included with the brand and take pride in it! 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask outside organizations or companies to help with this endeavor.

Even though there are other communities with the name of Magnolia in the United States, the new Magnolia, Arkansas, logo is truly one of a kind and cannot be found anywhere else. So, the next time you visit Magnolia, be prepared to be welcomed with a smile, and snap a photo with the new mural to say, “Hello from Magnolia!”

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article June 2022

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- June 2022 edition.

Heal on wheels: Mobile health clinics reach Arkansas’ underserved 
By Dalton Thompson

Health care costs are the leading cause of bankruptcies in the United States. Rural communities, where access to care can be limited, are feeling the brunt of a crisis of access and affordability. In Arkansas, almost 250,000 people do not have health insurance. With rising costs and public health crises becoming more common, Arkansans are delaying care to save money. Luckily, some organizations have decided that it doesn’t have to be this way—and they’re coming to a town near you!

The Arkansas Minority Health Commission (AMHC) launched their Mobile Health Unit in 2019. Their mission is to provide underserved and minority communities with no-cost preventive health-care services like screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, A1C and HIV. The AMHC strives to provide equitable access to health care for communities who have been historically underserved, but anyone can utilize its services. In addition to screenings, the Mobile Health Unit provides patients with health education, makes referrals to local care providers and partners with foodbanks statewide to offer even more support to the communities they serve.

“The Arkansas Minority Health Commission’s Mobile Health Unit serves as a vessel to promote health and prevent diseases and conditions that are most prevalent among minority populations,” said AMHC’s Mobile Health Unit coordinator, Cindy Arreola. “Our team travels the state of Arkansas, meeting people where they are and providing free services to bridge the gap for those who do not have easy access to preventative health care.”

In addition to AMHC’s Mobile Health Unit, Arkansans in the eastern region of the state have access to the Delta Care-A-Van, a service of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. The Care-A-Van program strives to make a difference in underserved communities in the Mississippi Delta.

Like AMHC’s Mobile Health Unit, NYITCOM’s Delta Care-A-Van specializes in preventive care screenings, health education, referrals to local care providers or other social services, and  health education programs. Since 2018, the Care-A-Van has been working to address a shortage of physicians in the Delta region.

According to Delta Population Health Institute Executive Director Dr. Brookshield Laurent, NYITCOM’s program has teamed up with medical and nursing school programs to connect students and residents to the communities who need their healing hands. “The Delta Care-A-Van serves to provide preventative care and mental health screenings in rural communities in the Delta in partnership with health care systems,” she said. “It offers interprofessional educational opportunities with health professional students to increase the health care workforce in rural communities. The Delta Care-A-Van also serves as an entry point to provide capacity building through cross-sector collaborations to address social determinants of  health.”

The AMHC Mobile Health Unit and the NYITCOM Delta Care-A-Van join an estimated 2,000 mobile health clinics in the United States that are bringing real change to our communities,
and at lower costs than traditional healthcare services. Mobile Health Map, a collaborative mobile clinic resource ( reports that, on average, the cost of a visit to a mobile clinic is about $155, but the savings are estimated to be about $1,800 when compared to traditional medical services. Data shows that mobile clinics are saving patients and communities a lot of money: For every dollar invested in a mobile clinic, $12 is saved, a 12-to-1 return-on investment. Sixty percent of patients served by mobile clinics are uninsured, so these savings have a real impact in our local communities.

Clinics like the AMHC Mobile Health Unit and the NYITCOM Delta Care-A-Van are great examples of how we can create healthier communities across the Natural State without bankrupting Arkansans. For more information, please visit and

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League May 2022

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- May 2022 edition.

Broad sales tax initiative a success for Cabot
By Shelby Fiegel

To create thriving communities with sustainable infrastructure while effectively managing growth, municipal leaders must focus on fiscal management and identify funding sources that best fit their communities’ needs. While there are multiple tools available to fund community and economic development efforts, one of the most common remains the local sales tax initiative. Creating a sales tax devoted to economic development can be a big ask of our citizens, especially if our leaders do not have a plan in place to utilize that funding.

In a local sales tax election in August of 2021, Cabot citizens overwhelmingly approved an initiative to maintain the city’s current sales tax rate and issue $72 million in bonds for community and economic development projects. Voters approved 10 separate ballot initiatives that included restructuring current bonds and funding infrastructure, public safety and efficiency improvements.

How did Cabot accomplish this win? City leadership focused on the following community and economic
development aspects.

Fiscal responsibility

When Cabot leaders began discussing the current and future needs of their city, their first concern was to be good stewards of public funds. They determined that they could meet these needs without a tax increase. Instead, they could extend the existing 1-percent sales and use tax. The city contracted Stephens Inc. to develop a plan to restructure the bonds. Stephens presented multiple options to city leadership, who then determined which were most necessary for the city to maintain what it had and what it needed to positively position itself for the future.


Instead of pitching the extension of the sales tax as a general fund for community and economic development efforts, the city identified 10 specific initiatives that could be funded through the extension: internet infrastructure, streets, drainage, early warning system, animal services, parks and recreation, public health facilities, and police and fire department improvements. Citizens were given the power to determine what would and would not be funded. The city also created a website that included detailed information about each initiative and a way to contact the city with questions.


The city focused its marketing efforts on engaging with residents directly, taking a proactive approach when sharing information about the sales tax extension, said Cabot Director of Economic Development Alicia Wilmoth, who served as the main point of contact for the
extension. “We focused on delivering a consistent message, providing opportunities for one-on-one engagement and being as transparent as possible. We were in front of residents as often as possible, normally two to three times
per week over the course of six weeks leading up to the election.”

Marketing efforts included town hall presentations, presentations at civic and social organizations, development of a website dedicated to the bond extension, physical signage, creation of a brochure, and word of mouth. No PAC (political action committee) was formed
to support the extension. All marketing was done by city leaders and a passionate group of citizens who volunteered
their time.

Developing a united front

Cabot administration worked in tandem to support the sales tax extension. All department heads participated in community meetings, answered questions about the funding goals and delivered a consistent message to generate excitement. City leaders engaged with both nonprofits and businesses. They were also intentional about connecting with residents from every ward in the city.
Because the city followed this plan of action, Cabot has already begun to see positive outcomes from the passage of the extension. The city has:

• Completed several building and land acquisitions for upcoming projects.
• Allocated $20 million for broadband, which the city will own.
• Purchased an old Price Cutter building on Main Street that will house a variety of city services, meeting space and the community pantry. This project will also be a catalyst for downtown revitalization.
• Begun an expansion of its recreational facilities that will further develop Cabot as a sports tourism destination.
• Secured a location for new police and fire training facilities, which will support surrounding communities as well.

“Moving Cabot forward is our top priority,” Mayor Ken Kincade said. “Our administration, the city council and community leaders support our city and want Cabot to be a city that can support itself economically. This bond issue is really an infrastructure plan to make Cabot a top city in the state of Arkansas to live. Investing in ourselves makes private industry want to invest here because they know we are serious about economic development and have skin in the game.”

To learn more about the Cabot bond extension, contact Alicia Wilmoth at or visit

Shelby Fiegel is the director of the University of
Central Arkansas Center for Community and
Economic Development. You can contact Shelby
at or 501-450-5269.

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 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!