City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article Autumn 2023

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- Autumn 2023 edition.

Crowdfunding for the Community 

By Shelby Fiegel

Identifying funding for community projects tends to hover at the very top of our needs when developing plans to make our communities better places to live, work and play. While there are multiple ways to fund local development efforts (public and private funding, grants, loans, fundraising, etc.), a relatively new concept is crowdfunding.

You may have heard the term before but not known what crowdfunding is. Crowdfunding harnesses the power of social networks and the internet to give people
the means to raise funds, help others overcome hardship and meet aspirational goals. Crowdfunding activates small donations that add up to big impacts. According
to personal finance company Nerdwallet, $17.2 billion is generated yearly through crowdfunding in North America. There were 6,455,080 worldwide crowdfunding campaigns last year, and successful crowdfunding campaigns have raised $28,656 on average.

Crowdfunding can not only be used to support individuals and organizations, but communities as well. Crowdfunding projects can focus on diverse spaces like
infrastructure, recreation, workforce development, education, downtown development, beautification and more. One organization with a unique approach to  community crowdfunding is ioby ( The nonprofit’s name stands for “in our backyards,” and the organization strives to give local leaders the ability to crowdfund the resources they need to build real, lasting change from the ground up. The platform helps connect local leaders with support and funding from their communities to make neighborhoods sustainable, healthier, greener, livable and fun.

“With crowdfunding, you don’t need huge donations to get to your goal, you just need a strong community that’s willing to support your idea,” said ioby Match
Programs Director Miriam Parson. “Successful crowdfunding campaigns are funded by neighbors, friends, family, local businesses and others who would love to see your project brought to life.”

If you’re interested in crowdfunding a community project, ioby suggests the following:

Build Your Team, Plan Your Asks—This is no time to go it alone! Be strategic in assembling your fundraising dream team. Consider developing a team of three or
four committed individuals. Be intentional in creating a diverse team. You will need your team to work together to make the right asks of the right people at the right time.

Plan Your Story—What will convince someone to support your campaign? There are five things every good story needs: Keep it personal, keep it focused, show the big picture, be an authority and make it dramatic.

Plan to Get the Word Out—Shout it from the rooftops! A well-planned campaign builds urgency and keeps telling the story over time. When getting the word out, plan to share an initial announcement that sets the stage for the campaign and introduces your ask to potential donors. Celebrate your milestones, such as when you hit 50 percent raised. Thank donors as contributions come in and continue to nudge others gently. Always include your deadline as the campaign winds down to create urgency.

Donors Must Be Asked—Donors must be directly asked to give. You will not get much if any traction by asking “anonymously,” such as through social media posts or other mass communication. Get as one-on-one as possible. Donors are more likely to give if they have a relationship with the person asking, a connection with the place, or if it’s an issue they have experienced.

You can learn more about building a successful campaign at or submit your idea today at

The Walton Family Foundation is partnering with ioby on a new funding opportunity in northwest Arkansas. Donations are being matched up to $15,000 for projects that leverage or improve public spaces in Benton and Washington counties that are led by residents or small local nonprofits. Interested citizens and organizations can learn more at

One of the first organizations to leverage this opportunity was the Music Education Initiative (MEI) in Fayetteville. MEI plans to host an immersive walkthrough replica of a Delta juke joint. The project will increase the community’s exposure and access to the arts in exciting new ways, including live music, a meeting lace, programming developed for the conservation, historical preservation, history, perspective and understanding of the Delta Blues.

“I am excited to be a participant in the northwest Arkansas neighborhood match program,” said MEI Executive Director and Co-founder Orson C. Weems. “The  program has been well received by the donors that I spoke with to support us in this program. ioby has been very attentive in making sure that we used tips and  testimonials, to tell our story to receive support for our campaign. I highly recommend that others utilize this program.”

Though this unique match funding opportunity is only available in northwest Arkansas, any community in our state can utilize the ioby platform (or other  crowdfunding sites) to start their own campaign aimed at creating positive change at the local level.

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League League Article Summer 2023

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- Summer 2023 edition.

Flood Mitigation Supports Community

By Greta Hacker

Flooding is one of the most common weather related disasters. Flood damage to property, infrastructure and agricultural yields can cause significant economic and social consequences to communities. According to Risk Factor, a nonprofit environmental risk estimator tool, 13 percent of properties in Arkansas have a 26 percent chance of being affected by flooding in the next 30 years.

Many Arkansas communities have historically lacked the resources and information to properly manage flooding. The National Centers for Environmental  Information reported that the Arkansas River flood of 2019 caused an estimated $3 billion in infrastructure and property damage. Our aging flood mitigation  infrastructure may have contributed to the problem; in 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers labeled over half of the state’s levees “in unacceptable condition.”

Local leaders working to manage flooding can find help from state programs and services. The Arkansas Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Division provides education, funding and consultation for city leaders on flood mitigation. Whit Montague, a certified floodplain manager with the Natural  Resources Division, noted that making sure property owners purchase flood insurance is a key part of recovery and resilience. “The average flood insurance claim in Arkansas during 2006-2016 was approximately $22,000,” she said. “However, only about half of the homes damaged by floods are insured for flood damage,  meaning that many homeowners are forced to pay out of pocket during recovery.”

Montague emphasized that lacking education about flood insurance is part of the problem. Lenders require property owners in official flood zones to purchase flood
insurance before taking out a mortgage. In Arkansas there is no disclosure requirement for whether a property is in a flood zone, so many buyers don’t find out about the flood insurance requirement until they go to close. This leaves the purchaser with little opportunity to shop around for a better rate. Purchasers are often given high quotes that can add hundreds of dollars onto their monthly payments.

“What is missing [from the discussion] is that there are ways to reduce that insurance premium,” Montague said. The Natural Resources Division supports  communities in this effort by coordinating the state’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). This voluntary program encourages community-wide adoption of minimum regulatory standards to manage flooding and allows property owners to purchase federally backed flood insurance. The state NFIP office is available  year-round for phone, email, virtual and in-person consultation with local officials and citizens who have questions about flood insurance or mitigation.

The state also supports flood mitigation through administering federal grant funding to communities. Projects that receive funding can include repairing a levee, creating a detention or retention pond to collect floodwater, and training people to talk to the community about flood insurance. The Natural Resources Division can
also provide funding for improving properties through floodproofing, relocation, elevation or demolition of existing structures.

The city of Clarksville demonstrates a successful communitywide flood mitigation project that received support in part from a low-interest loan administered by
the Natural Resources Division. Clarksville’s downtown area lies in a 100-year floodplain, which stifled growth and revitalization due to high flood risk and the associated high flood insurance premiums. Clarksville’s levee was built in the 1950s and wasn’t deemed satisfactory to manage flooding in the area. The city received a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and contributed $400,000 to finance renovation of the levee. The project took eight months and was completed in August of 2022. FEMA then designated the area as no longer being in a floodplain, which eliminated the mandatory insurance  requirement for 830 properties.

Since the city’s levee project has reduced flood risk in the area, the downtown has seen “an explosion of capital investment,” said Steve Houserman, Clarksville’s economic development director. “Just in direct investment, we have seen over $2.5 to $3 million. We also have three or four businesses that are already underway and ready to open up in the next couple of months.”

The city has also invested in its downtown since the levee renovation. Projects include purchasing, revitalizing and selling a historic building to the local University of the Ozarks, as well as constructing a public stage for concerts and other community events.

Houserman advises local officials looking to institute a floodplain management project to have good data, ideally from an environmental study of the area, that shows how the flooding causes a detriment to growth and revitalization. He also recommends involving affected groups and other stakeholders in the effort from the beginning. “Those business owners, for their own wellbeing, will show up to city council meetings and they will advocate for that issue, because it’s going to save them money in the long-term and help the local economy grow,” he said.

Montague encourages community leaders to view floodplain management as an opportunity for community progress. “Management of flood risk is not an  impediment to growth and development,” she said. “In actuality, it protects your residents and neighbors and sets the stage for smart, safe and sustainable growth.”

To learn more about the Natural Resources Division’s flood mitigation assistance programs, visit

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article April 2023

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- April 2023 edition.

Moving the Needle on Childcare 

By Abayi Ibro Ayouba

In its August 17, 2022, Household Pulse survey, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in the previous four weeks, 2,055 Arkansas adults left a job in order to care for children. In that same period, nearly 34,000 working Arkansans used paid leave time to care for children, and nearly 35,000 took unpaid leave to provide childcare. Many parents, particularly women, are forced to leave the workforce to care for children, reducing their earning potential and limiting their ability to contribute to the economy. This in turn affects businesses that rely on a stable and reliable workforce.

The COVID-19 pandemic shed a new light on the childcare crisis that has been brewing in many countries for years. While this crisis is not new, the pandemic exacerbated it, highlighting the need for affordable and accessible childcare options. As we continue to adjust to the “new normal,” most businesses and schools have reopened their doors, but parents are still  struggling to find affordable, accessible options and are facing daunting waitlists.

The childcare crisis, especially in Arkansas, is a significant concern for parents and caregivers. The state has been grappling with a shortage of quality and affordable childcare options for years. This problem is especially acute in rural areas, where there are fewer childcare facilities.

Leaders must understand that childcare challenges have a negative impact on the state’s economy, and it is critical to ensure that solutions are developed so that parents can provide the highest quality of life possible for their children. To address the childcare shortage in Arkansas, policymakers and community leaders must work together to find solutions that support both providers and families.

The Newport Economic Development Commission understands this pressing reality and is taking a proactive approach to addressing the state’s childcare shortage by offering home-based childcare training to community members. “We have a desperate need for additional childcare slots in Jackson County,” said Jon Chadwell, the commission’s director of economic development. “And it is an economic development issue because if people don’t have a place to care for their children, it’s hard for them to go to work, and they might decide to work in a surrounding county where childcare is available in the same place they’re working. Parents don’t typically like to leave their kids 30 or 40 miles away from where they’re working.”

The home-based childcare training program is a promising step toward addressing Newport’s childcare shortage. By supporting home-based providers, the program can increase access to  quality childcare options for families while also promoting economic growth in the region.

To make this happen, Chadwell’s office teamed up with the White River Planning and Development District and ChildCare Aware of North Central Arkansas to provide tools and training to interested community members.

“There is a shortage of infant and toddler care, not only locally, but statewide and nationally,” said ChildCare Aware’s Debbie Mize. “Everyone at ChildCare Aware is here to help anyone that would be interested in opening family childcare in their home.”

Mize and her team are working with community leaders to provide the opportunity and tools for anyone who wants to open a family childcare center in their home. “There’s a whole team at every ChildCare Aware center across the state that works closely with state agencies and other partners to support caregivers in any way that we can,” she said. “Participants in our
programming also receive guidance on how to become licensed childcare providers, which will allow them to access state funding and other resources to support their businesses.”

Home-based childcare providers offer a valuable service to their communities while also earning income and building their own businesses. The programming provided through ChildCare Aware is one step in the right direction to move the needle on childcare in a positive direction.

To learn more about home-based childcare and licensing or other resources, visit ChildCare Aware online at

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article March 2023

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- March 2023 edition.

Buy-in Builds Vibrant Community Events

By Michael Hudson


Cities and towns should actively engage in creating community events because they offer many positive impacts. The development of community-focused events at the local level provides opportunities for citizen engagement and togetherness, enhances the quality of life and increases tourism.

Mayor Stephanie White of Keo knows a lot about creating dynamic community festivities. In December of 2022, she and other community leaders launched the first annual Keo Pecan Festival, which highlighted the city’s pecan orchards. The festival featured live music and entertainment, a pecan baking contest, a bike ride, arts and crafts, food and more.

“Community-based events signal to residents and visitors that the place is brimming with life and interest,” White said. “Enthusiasm is contagious, and the best compliment a visitor can pay is ‘I wish I lived here.’”

A successful event will provide the opportunity for residents to feel more connected to their community and one another. It will also draw tourists to your town. Visitors will spend money at local restaurants, retail establishments and on a host of other expenses throughout the day. All of those expenditures will contribute to uplifting the local economy.

So, what should be considered when creating a successful community event?

Mayor White advised that you should strive to make your event one “where people want to be, where they feel at home and can truly enjoy the festivities and individuals around them.” By doing so, it will lead to more individuals wanting to return in the future and with them, a larger tax base.

A successful event cannot be accomplished without a core group of dedicated volunteers. Volunteers are essential in broadcasting to others the needs of the event, whether those needs include more volunteers, monetary donations or other items. Volunteers can also be some of the best spokespeople and marketers for your event. By developing a strong group of committed and excited volunteers, you can maximize the impact of a community event.

But how do you inspire volunteers to get involved?

As the director of marketing for the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, Lorie Robertson has a lot of experience generating excitement and momentum around community events. Some of the events and festivals held in the Chaffee Crossing community include an indoor Christmas show, a bi-weekly festival-style farmers and artisan market, and an annual veterans day

Robertson emphasized that highlighting the value of the event to the community is crucial for eliciting volunteer support. “By painting a picture or a vision of how important the event will be to the community and how important each role is to the overall success of the event, you can generate buy-in from volunteers, leaders and citizens,” she said.

Successful execution of community events also depends upon leaders’ ability to make sure volunteers feel heard and understood. Mayor White often checks in with volunteers on a regular basis to identify concerns and address them, paying special attention to the distribution of responsibility and work.

From personal experience, the old saying “many hands make light work” is especially true when it comes to event planning and implementation. If volunteers are overworked and unable to enjoy the event themselves, it will be extremely difficult to recruit those volunteers for future events.

Robertson stressed the importance of a solid leadership team in successfully executing a community event. “Your leadership team needs to be individuals who take pride in what they are doing and tell others about the impact it has on their lives,” she said. Those ambassadors will directly impact the development of new leaders, the retention of current volunteers and the recruitment of new volunteers.

When developing your leadership team, consider individuals who can offer valuable skillsets such as time management, organization, communication, strong work ethic and a passion for the community. They will inspire others to invest their time and talent.

There are many reasons to develop a robust offering of community-based events. During the event development process, it’s important to remember that a successful event cannot be accomplished without the buy-in from the leadership team, volunteers and community.

The best way to learn about events in your region and throughout the state is by visiting If your events aren’t listed, make sure they get added.

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article February 2023

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- February 2023 edition.

EngageAR Partners on Pantries for MLK Jr. Day of Service 

By Shelby Fiegel


The Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service is a defining moment each year when Americans across the country step up to make communities more equitable and to take action at the local level. It is the only federal holiday designated as a National Day of Service to encourage citizens to volunteer to improve their communities. During the last quarter-century, the MLK Day of Service has grown, and more Americans have embraced the idea that citizenship involves taking an active role in improving communities.

Engage Arkansas (EngageAR) celebrates the MLK Day of Service by engaging with municipalities and nonprofit organizations to:

• Engage with their community and create constructive action;

• Act on Dr. King’s legacy of social justice and equity; and

• Recommit by volunteering to serve others (clean up a public space, mentor a young person or help those who are food insecure).

This year in celebration of MLK Day, EngageAR supported the Little Free Pantry Movement statewide. The Little Free Pantry is a grassroots effort launched by Fayetteville’s Jessica McClard in May 2016. She planted the first Little Free Pantry, a wooden box on a post, that contained food and personal care and paper items accessible to all citizens in her community to support neighbors in need. A Maumelle Public Works Department employee retrofits a donated Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper dispenser to serve as a community food pantry as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.

Through a donation of 100 old newspaper dispensers by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, EngageAR supported over 60 communities by repurposing the dispensers into mini food pantries. Partnering communities also hosted block parties and food drives to bring their community together.

“Our mission at EngageAR is to bridge divides by bringing people together through service and volunteerism,” said Deputy Chief of Community Engagement and Faith-Based Partnership Shana Chaplin. “We seek to provide support and tools to help local communities build strong civic infrastructure. The Little Free Pantry project is an example of how state government, private sector partners and local communities can creatively engage citizens of all ages to help meet local needs.”

Each community identified a unique approach in coordinating and supporting the pantries. Some opted for nonprofit organizations, education institutions, health care facilities or individuals to take ownership of the pantries. In Maumelle, the city identified the need for additional pantries and made the decision to support the installation of two new pantries: one for general community needs on the north side of town near the police and fire department (2000 Murphy Drive) and one for pet products at the Maumelle Center on the Lake, a senior wellness center (2 Jackie Johnson Cove).

“Engage Arkansas’ excellent idea to turn old newspaper boxes into micro food pantries proves that a project doesn’t have to be big to make a big difference,” said Maumelle Mayor Caleb Norris. “Those families who will benefit from this program will have food on the table and will know that the people in their community have stepped up to help.”

EngageAR also encouraged their partners to decorate and paint the pantries with art representative of their communities. Maumelle utilized city equipment and employee-centered volunteerism within their public works department to sand, paint and print stickers of inspiring quotes and paw prints to make the pantries aesthetically pleasing and easy to locate. Other communities and organizations opted to work with local artists and youth to decorate the pantries.

“We are so excited to be part of the MLK Day of Service project with Engage Arkansas,” said Maumelle Director of Economic Development Courtney Dunn, who served as the main point of contact for the project. “Providing resources like the Free Little Food Pantry to our community is impactful and is a community effort.”

Learn more about the MLK Day of Service at, or visit for resources, ideas for community projects and a full map of communities participating in the project.

You can learn more about the Little Free Pantry Movement at

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article January 2023

Article originally published in the Arkansas Municipal League Association- January 2023 edition.

The Virtuous Cycle of Adaptive Reuse 

By Greta Hacker


At the local level, it’s exciting to see a new project break ground. Some of the most well-known economic development success stories in the state are projects that created something where nothing was before: a new hotel, a new restaurant, or a new factory.

But over time, these exciting new buildings become old and can eventually become vacant when their original use is no longer relevant for the community’s needs. Recently, the Lincoln Land Institute called vacancies in the United States an “epidemic” and Arkansas is not immune to this disease. Instead of viewing these buildings as eyesores, we should view them as opportunities to be catalysts for renewal, growth and community revitalization.

Adaptive reuse, the process of revitalizing an existing building for a purpose other than what it was originally designed for, is an answer to this problem. Arkansas has seen many incredible adaptive reuse projects in larger cities, including the Momentary in Bentonville (a former cheese factory turned into contemporary art space) and the Bakery District in Fort Smith (a former baked goods facility turned into a retail, coworking, restaurant and community space).

According to Ryan Biles, Lonoke 2022 Executive Committee member and owner of Kudzu Collective (, an architectural firm that specializes in adaptive reuse, these types of projects have been gaining momentum in the United States. Recent data from the American Institute of Architectural Billing Index found that renovation and adaptive reuse projects now outpace new construction and comprise over 50 percent of the value of construction dollars spent.

Although adaptive reuse projects have clear economic benefits, Biles suggests that they can have far deeper positive impacts on a community. “The value of [adaptive reuse] to a community is certainly quantifiable, in terms of healthy lease rates and property, sales and A&P tax revenues,” he says. “But it is also a qualitative value, one where citizen perception shifts from ‘we could never’ to ‘look what we did!’ That contagious positivity— or “defiant optimism” as we call it in Lonoke—makes a huge impact on the mindset of a small town or neighborhood.”

Adaptive reuse projects happen in communities of all sizes, and some of the examples mentioned occurred in large and more affluent cities. However, the inspiring effects of renewal can be particularly helpful for underresourced and rural areas. One organization is working in some of the most rural communities in the state to turn forgotten places into affordable and eco-conscious housing while taking a community-centric approach.

The Dels Corp ( was founded in 2018 by Mark Bertel in Mountain Home with the goal of providing sustainable, multi-family housing throughout Arkansas and the Midwest. It all started with a property called The Dels, which was once known as Town & Country Motor Inn, one of Mountain Home’s original motels. With a great location just a few blocks from downtown, there was a lot of potential to breathe new life into this property and provide value to the citizens of Mountain Home. The Dels offers affordable, all-inclusive studio apartments with a strong community-based feel.

Since The Dels Corp’s original success in Mountain Home, Bertel and his team have renovated 11 properties in north central Arkansas and southern Missouri and have launched two restaurants. Although each property has unique features and its own unique story, each of them share a community-centered focus.

“Before we even think about purchasing a property for renovation, we make sure that we develop close partnerships with multiple stakeholders in that community,” says Hannah Thaxton, operations manager at The Dels Corp. “It is very important to us to build a presence in a city and to make sure that our project is something that the community needs and wants.” Some of the ways The Dels Corp reports involving themselves in communities prior to beginning an adaptive reuse project include joining local chambers of commerce, partnering with local schools and sponsoring events such as 5Ks and festivals.

Thaxton shares this piece of advice for leaders thinking about adaptive reuse in their own communities: “Don’t be scared of the big run-down projects, because they are usually the ones that bring the most joy. People are often thankful when something old is made new, beautiful and useful.”

Biles echoes that suggestion. “I encourage folks to think about the worst or most embarrassing building in their community and be willing to ask ‘what if?’ Most of us have driven through a dusty downtown or walked by an old, dark building and said, ‘I sure wish somebody would do something about that…’ or ‘Why doesn’t somebody clean that place up.’ I simply remind people that you can be that somebody!”

Getting Ready for the 2024 Eclipse? Arkansas Tourism Can Help!

Is your community planning something big to celebrate the 2024 Eclipse? See this message below from the folks at Arkansas Tourism offering assistance ordering eclipse glasses at a reduced price.

Industry Partners,

We’re getting ready, are you? Arkansas could see record-breaking visitation for the Great North American Eclipse taking place April 8, 2024. The Arkansas tourism industry has been learning about and planning for this exciting event since 2017 – now is the time to start acting.

Arkansas Tourism and the Arkansas Hospitality Association have partnered to provide quality eclipse viewing glasses to the industry at a reduced price. These glasses will comply with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard for filters for direct viewing of the sun.

To show your interest in ordering eclipse glasses, fill out this Google Form. Include the organization’s name, contact information and the number of eclipse glasses you’d be interested in purchasing. This is not the formal order yet, but is our last call to the industry to express your interest in placing an order.

Please complete the form by Wednesday, February 15, 2023.

To start preparing for the eclipse right now, fill out the Google Form. Make sure you’re prepared to help your future guests view this once in a lifetime experience with eclipse viewing glasses!

For more information, email Kim Williams, eclipse project manager, at or call her at 870-295-2005.

To learn more about the big event visit

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article December 2022

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

LeadAR: Strengthing Arkansas communities since 1984 

By guest writer, Dr. Julie Robinson


For nearly 40 years, Arkansans from all walks of life have participated in the two-year LeadAR program to sharpen their skills, expand their worldview and put their hopes into action to
aid their communities. LeadAR can be traced to a 1980 fact-finding trip by two University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service agents, J.B. Williams—state leader, community development—and Thomas Vaughns, horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff. Along with representatives from 41 other states, they learned about a leadership training program initiated by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Impressed by what they heard, the two submitted a proposal, and the Foundation provided the original funding that would establish LeadAR. The program took root and Class 1 began its journey in March 1984.

LeadAR graduates are everywhere serving their communities in every conceivable way. They are educators, farmers, advocates, bankers, state legislators, lawyers, mayors, as well as quorum court, city council and school board members. Their influence spans industry, education, government, nonprofits, and small businesses. In almost 40 years of training, the program
has developed a tremendous legacy with more than 500 alumni who will influence the state’s future for decades to come.

To address the gaps between rural and urban communities within the state, LeadAR recruits talented and passionate people eager to usher in positive change. Designed to broaden Arkansans’ understanding of critical issues and opportunities facing our state, LeadAR strengthens participants’ knowledge, skills, and network by empowering them to impact communities
and advocate for long-term economic development.

The LeadAR model employs an interdisciplinary approach to leadership development by championing the intersection of theory, practice, and application. While exploring the major issues facing Arkansas communities is key to achieving lasting change, LeadAR recognizes this is not enough. Experts in subject matter, leadership theory, communication techniques, experiential learning, and critical thinking are involved in LeadAR training. This knowledge equips participants with the tools
necessary to catalyze change using strategies that are equitable, empowering, and sustainable.

LeadAR is for Arkansans from rural and urban parts of our state who want to assume greater leadership responsibilities to better understand complex cultural, social, and economic issues impacting us today and in the future. The results are legion: Participants improve their ability to interact and work with others; deepen their understanding of social, economic, and political
systems; and develop critical thinking and decision-making skills to become better citizens and leaders. One of the greatest values of the LeadAR experience is the opportunity to connect to people and resources that can help them make a difference. “LeadAR for me was not a beginning nor was it a destination,” said Rep. David Hillman, who represents District 13 in the Arkansas House of Representatives and is a LeadAR Class 1 alumnus. “It was, however, an experience that opened a whole new world of possibilities.”

LeadAR is an intensive 18-month, hands-on program. Class members participate in seven multi-day seminars around the state that include tours, guest speakers, and interactive activities.  Video-conference sessions are hosted during alternating months when the class does not meet in person. Part of what makes LeadAR unique from other leadership development programs are the National Study Tour, International Study Tour and Leadership Service Project completion. Class members participate in the National Study Tour in the first year of the program, where they travel to Washington, D.C., to learn about issues and policymaking from a national perspective. At the end of the LeadAR program, participants travel outside the United
States for the International Study Tour to learn how international issues and policy impact Arkansas and the U.S. Finally, participants are required to complete a Leadership Service Project over the course of the 18-month program. The Leadership Service Project makes a positive difference in each community involved while providing an opportunity for participants to apply
their newly acquired skills and newly made connections.

Applications for LeadAR Class 20 are now open. Applicants are required to apply online no later than February 24, 2023. All applicants will be required to participate in an interview. Applicants will be notified of Class 20 selection status by March 31, 2023.

Tuition for participating in LeadAR is $3,500. Costs for tuition remain affordable through the support of the Arkansas Association of LeadAR Alumni, alumni contributions, and our Eagle Sponsors: Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Farm Credit, and Arkansas Farm Bureau. All program information and the application can be found at

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article November 2022

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

Overcoming the digital divide: Newport develops its first Wi-Fi Park 

By Michael Hudson


In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Arkansans were left wondering how they would stay connected to school, work and one another while functioning remotely. Citizens had to contend with a lack of broadband infrastructure, especially in rural parts of the state. According to research conducted by Broadband Now (, Arkansas
currently ranks 49th among states in their annual rankings of internet coverage, speed, and availability. Federal Communications Commission data shows that less than 21.5 percent of an estimated 1.7 million Arkansas households have adequate internet access.

The pandemic put a spotlight on the need for more advanced technological infrastructure across the state and the city of Newport was no exception. The Newport Economic Development Commission (NEDC) understood that their city was at the forefront of this challenge and began to advocate for better access and identify ways to support citizens in overcoming the digital divide, said Executive Director Jon Chadwell. “There are many in our community who do not have adequate access to broadband internet. Our staff and partners felt this was a critical issue for us to address.”

The NEDC identified the first step in overcoming the challenge: the development of DTech Park in downtown Newport and the subsequent development of a Wi-Fi park. DTech Park is a public-private partnership focused on creating a high-tech environment that will produce high-demand job opportunities in northeast Arkansas. During the planning phase for the project, the NEDC partnered with the Jackson County Library to strengthen their Wi-Fi signal to reach the parking lot area of the park. The NEDC then leveraged funding from a pandemic preparedness grant to begin construction on the official Wi-Fi park, located between the library and DTech Park.

The Wi-Fi park consists of 41 parking spaces, four accessible parking spaces, and four green spaces that include trees and picnic tables. There are also plans to include spaces for electric vehicle charging. Internet access for the park is fully funded by the Newport Rotary Club, so citizens receive service with no additional cost to the city or NEDC.

Safety was also a priority, Chadwell said. “We partnered with Entergy Arkansas to install two pedestrian lights so that those who work early in the morning or into evening feel safe.” The park doesn’t yet include charging stations for laptops, phones, and other electronic devices while sitting in the outdoor spaces, but NEDC and their partners are brainstorming ways to offer this service, likely by routing electrical outlets from the pedestrian lights to the picnic tables.

For communities interested in creating their own Wi-Fi park, Chadwell suggested starting with an already existing parking lot. He recommended that the space consists of an area where individuals can access the internet from either their vehicle or from outdoor seating, preferably both. The parking lot itself does not have to be paved, but a paved lot is preferred so that
those with mobility issues are able to access the amenity. Additionally, preparing a well-lit space will allow further utilization of the park before sunrise or after hours.

“Get with local partners and the people who supply your broadband,” Chadwell recommended. “Partnering with local businesses and organizations not only creates shared workload and decreases costs but also creates an opportunity to accomplish more in a shorter amount of time and for the community to come together to support a common goal.”

The digital divide is nothing new; COVID-19 only heightened our awareness of it. Creating digital equity and inclusion for all Arkansans is critical as we look to stay economically competitive and improve the quality of life in our communities. Through assessing community needs and creating and implementing plans to fulfill those needs, communities like Newport are preparing themselves for a bright and prosperous future.

To learn more about the DTech Park and the
Newport Wi-Fi park, contact the Newport Economic
Development Commission at or visit

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article October 2022

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

Preparing a workforce for the future: ACT Work Ready Communities 

By Shelby Fiegel

Arkansas may boast an impressively low unemployment rate, but nearly 80,000 jobs remain unfilled in the Natural State. Despite workforce challenges and other ripple effects caused by COVID-19, employers still require a qualified and educated workforce to fill those positions. This puts pressure on our communities and education systems to create workforce pipelines and support systems that prepare our workforce to meet current and future demands.

How do we ensure that economic growth continues in our state? That’s where programs like the ACT Work Ready Communities (WRC) step in. The WRC initiative empowers states, regions and counties with data, processes and tools that drive economic growth by identifying skills gaps and quantifying the skill level of their workforce. Individuals that participate in the program leverage the ACT WorkKeys National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC) to measure and certify work skills needed for success in jobs across industries and occupations. The overall goal is to show prospective employers concrete proof of an individual’s skills and potential training needs to match them with appropriate employment opportunities.

Currently, Arkansas counties have a 45-percent participation rate in the program (with 34 of 75 counties having achieved certified work-ready status) and 975 Arkansas-based employers recognize the ACT WorkKeys NCRC in support of WRC goals. The most recent county to receive the WRC designation was Grant County, where a diverse group of community leaders partnered to receive the certified work-ready designation.

To begin the certification process, Grant County leaders attended the ACT Work Ready Communities Boot Camp, an executive leadership training program focused on creating and implementing tailored efforts to improve the county’s work readiness. Leaders met with local employers, policymakers, educators and economic developers to establish goals and build a sustainable WRC model to fit unique community needs.

“We know that economic development and education are closely associated. That’s why the Sheridan School District is proud to have played a role in helping Grant County achieve status as an ACT Work Ready Community,” said Dr. Karla Neathery, superintendent of the Sheridan School District. “The skills our students are learning in Work Ready and JAG (Jobs for America’s Graduates) classes, as well as internships and other courses, help prepare them to be outstanding contributors to a workforce. When these students demonstrate those skills on the NCRC assessments, they receive credentials to indicate their work-readiness to potential employers. We believe designation as an ACT Work Ready Community aligns perfectly with our school’s mission to empower our students to become lifelong learners who are responsible, contributing citizens.”

To garner communitywide support and align the WRC process with long-term community goals, leaders representing Kick Start Sheridan, a citizen-led effort focused on outlining and implementing community and economic development strategies, were involved.

“The Kick Start Sheridan initiative was started to help prepare our community for the future,” said Brad McGinley, who serves as the Grant County extension agent staff chair with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Achieving ACT WRC status was one of our initial goals identified in our countywide strategic action plan. Having a skilled workforce that matches the needs of employers is key to driving economic development in our county forward.”

Leaders throughout Grant County understand the necessity of developing a high-quality workforce and the positive impact it has on local employers. Grant County Judge Randy Pruitt said, “It’s exciting to participate in a program that matches an individual’s skill set to job opportunities in Grant County. It will aid economic development not only in our county but the surrounding region as well.”


For more information on ACT Work Ready Communities, go to
Follow Kick Start Sheridan on Facebook at to keep up to date on community and economic development efforts in Grant County.