Public-private partnership helps Jefferson County transform community services

The following post originally appeared as an article in the December 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

Jefferson County recently gained statewide attention thanks to a new public-private funding partnership between the county government and The P3 Group, Inc (P3). The largest needs of the community were voiced during a quorum court hearing early last year. The conditions of the Jefferson County Health Department, Coroner and Veterans Services were described as “hazardous, moldy, malfunctioning and unsafe” by Justice of the Peace Brenda Gaddy, Angela Parker from the Health Unit and several employees of Veterans Services.

County employees feared roof collapse and experienced upper respiratory infections. Customers avoided utilizing county services as the buildings were in disrepair. County Judge Gerald Robinson began the process of applying for a grant through the Arkansas Department of Health to update these buildings, which led to a partnership with P3.

What is The P3 Group?
The P3 Group, Inc., founded in 2013, is a minority owned, international real estate development and consulting firm. Their goal is to create public-private partnerships with government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Their process includes structured acquisitions through sales and leasebacks that turn high-interest, short-term real estate loans into long-term, tax-exempt, low-interest financed projects.

According to CEO Dee Brown, the two most important and beneficial parts of the funding plan include transferring the front-end financial risks away from the public and onto the private side through P3 and local partnerships, and eliminating the need for the county to pledge full faith and credit to the transaction, meaning the county isn’t required to vote on a bond issue for the project. This expedites the entire process because the partnership manages all financial burden and can proceed without waiting for a voting cycle.

That is the key for The P3 Group and their funding model—finding the financial support through local partners and contractors, managing the risks and targets of the community, and providing efficient guidance through the construction, architecture and engineering of top-of-the-line project sites.

Jefferson County and P3
The Jefferson County Quorum Court in July met and approved the P3 Group ordinance. The ordinance allows a $14 million lease agreement between P3 and the county, with the goal of completing new facilities for the Health Department, Veterans Services and County
Coroner. Within 84 days of the ordinance’s passage, the P3 Group was able to deliver the site acquisition, engineering, design and financing for the three facilities with a price tag of $14.3 million and a one-year time frame.

Garnering community support for this large project was crucial, Brown said. “There was an overwhelming
show of support from everyone, especially veterans and health care workers.”

This support was also evident in the organizations and key players that joined in the private funding side. Simmons Bank pledged $1 million to support the Health Department and the Veterans Services office. The Quapaw Nation along with the Saracen Casino pledged to pay for all the furniture, fixtures and equipment for the Health Department. Another $40,000 pledge was made by Relyance Bank for the Health Department.

“It’s not just building physical structures,” Brown said, “but rather providing life-changing experiences for the entire community.”

When The P3 Group develops a partnership with a municipality it not only provides jobs through the use of local subcontractors, but also focuses on developing a personal connection with citizens throughout the process, she said.

The partnership
The success of this process largely relies on county officials. As evidenced in the quorum court hearing, the Jefferson County government proved their full faith and confidence in both the P3 Group and its citizens. The most important step is having confidence and cooperation with the county, because there are a lot of processes that must go through those officials first, Brown said.

According to Brown, communities that benefit most from this kind of partnership are those that have not had major projects delivered recently and require a boost to find funding, a key skill of P3. A public-private partnership can be a catalyst for any municipality that seeks to develop their community. It provides not only a helping hand in project building, but a long-lasting positive impact on the entire community.

For additional information on The P3 Group, visit

By Andrey Archer

Community Canvas: Murals improve our cities and towns

The following post originally appeared as an article in the November 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

Public murals are not only exciting and colorful pieces of art, but also are a community development tool.

Murals can serve as marketing tools for communities. They allow towns to display what makes them unique and illustrate their story. Drab walls turned into vibrant pieces stop people in their tracks, encourage them to take and share selfies, and create a lasting memory associated with the town. Murals also serve as a catalyst for creative placemaking, a process in community development in which community members utilize arts and culture to implement change and improve quality of life. Murals unite neighbors, empower local artists and instill excitement and pride among citizens.

Murals are popping up in towns across Arkansas, and not just in major metropolitan areas. The Ft. Smith nonprofit 64.6 Downtown hosts an annual event called The Unexpected which highlights the installation of murals from world renowned artists. Mural artist and Arkansan Jason White painted unity murals in Newport and Cabot and even assisted in the development of an “Art Alley” in his hometown of Searcy.

With the creation of a mural class offered at Lyon College that mobilizes college artists, murals are creating a buzz in Batesville. The city has seen an increase in tourism as a result of the murals.

“People come to Batesville to see the murals,” said Mayor Rick Elumbaugh. “This a huge asset for our upcoming bicentennial celebration.”

The idea of painting a large public mural can be overwhelming. Misti Staley, Mural Workshop Leader for the Thrive Center in Helena, offers the following pieces of advice:

  1. Find and prepare your canvas.
    One of the first steps when planning to paint a mural is to determine a location. Ideally, it is a high-visibility spot so everyone in town and visitors can see it. Also consider the composition of your “canvas.” The wall’s surface will determine time, effort and the materials for the project. For example, rustic-style walls made of exposed brick have deep grout lines, requiring more time and paint to cover.

    After picking a location, you will need to prep and prime the wall for painting. The wall needs to be as clean as possible to extend the life of the mural. Scrape off old paint, consider powerwashing, then coat the wall in primer. This work can be done with your team of artists or volunteers!

  2. Assemble your artists (or volunteers).
    Michelangelo did not complete the Sistine Chapel ceiling on his own! However, your mural team does not have to include Italy’s most skilled renaissance painters. Like any community project, utilize your assets and partnerships. Public schools and colleges are full of aspiring artists. The Thrive Center, for example, offers youth programming that encourages students in Phillips County to design and paint their own murals.

    Staley says children as young as eight can contribute directly to the mural in some way. Younger painters can work on base coats and older painters can focus on fine lines and details. Break the work into segments by assigning shifts afterschool for volunteers.

  3. Determine your medium.
    Creating a masterpiece requires the correct set of materials and tools. The mural supply list includes paint brushes, exterior house paint, drop cloths and smocks, among other things. Staley specifically recommends 1.5 – 2” angled paint brushes to shape clean edges and 2-in-1 paint and primer for thick coats of paint. These essential materials can be inexpensive and found at a local home improvement store. However, take care of your tools to extend their use. At the end of each day, wash your brushes and correctly store your cans of paint.

Murals are more than art, they are community assets that help move our communities forward. But like any major endeavour, work with a team to take it step by step. Creative community projects unite residents and celebrate the arts. How will you color your community?

If you want to learn more about how to develop a mural in your community, contact Misti Staley at For more information about the Thrive Center, visit

By Emily Cooper Yates

CCED Intern Introduction: Marquette Stricklen

I’m Marquette Stricklen a senior here at the University of Central Arkansas. I am a Public Administration major and Sociology minor. I am a native of Forrest City, Arkansas. I am so excited to work with the Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED). I look forward to the professional development and the connections I’ll make. I am grateful for the opportunity to see the everyday operations and interactions between the CCED and community members. I am ready to learn the ropes of community development and how effect the CCED is to the Conway and surrounding areas community.

In the future I plan to work in the non-profit sector and one day create and run my own non-profit focusing on the rehabilitation of under-privileged communities with skills trainings and education and arts programs for children. Coming from a small town, I’ve seen the potential that the community and people have and how much helped is needed in those areas. Building community is important to me and helping others is my passion. I am excited to use the experiences and skills I’ll learn here at the CCED in my own endeavors to improve economic and community development.

CCED Intern Introduction: Mya Hall

One of the most powerful authors, Toni Morrison, once penned the lines, “ When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”. My name is Mya Hall and in my short years of living, I have tried to pattern my life after these wise words. I am from the southeastern Arkansas town, Stuttgart, AR and I am currently pursuing a BA in Philosophy and African and African-American Studies with a minor in Honors Interdisciplinary Studies.

I am more than grateful to be granted the opportunity to intern here at the Center for Community and Economic Development. Through this internship I am hoping to gain the necessary knowledge and skills to do as Morrison states, “free somebody else”. Coming from a community where there is dire need for community development, I am excited to broaden my skill set from working with such a phenomenal staff to take back to my hometown.

My career and education goals are a reflection of my purpose. I am on a quest of knowledge so that I can become more informed through knowledge and learning to truly put service first. My goal is to serve my community in such a way that others will not have to deal with the disparities that I have in the past. I want to ensure that the upcoming youth are able to live without limitations brought on by a lack of development in their community. My plan is to obtain a law degree after my undergraduate years so that I can fight for the betterment of my community.

The District: How Mountain Home is leveraging a new law to revitalize their downtown

The following post originally appeared as an article in the October 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

In 2019, Mountain Home Mayor Hillery Adams attended an Arkansas Municipal League meeting where Executive Director Mark Hayes spoke about potential laws coming through the Arkansas Legislature. One bill in particular caught Mayor Adams’ attention that would allow cities and towns in Arkansas to establish entertainment districts in a designated area of their city.

Mayor Adams saw the potential of an ordinance like this to serve as a catalyst for revitalization efforts in downtown Mountain Home. Following the meeting, Adams and his team went to work researching entertainment districts, drafting an ordinance and presented it to the Mountain Home City Council. 

“We wanted to be the first in the state to have an entertainment district,” explained Mayor Adams. 

On July 24, 2019, the Mountain Home entertainment district, dubbed The District, became the first entertainment district in Arkansas.

The District is open daily between 4:30 p.m. and midnight allowing patrons to leave a restaurant or bar with a single commercially branded paper or plastic cup of beer, wine or a mixed drink to be consumed in the boundaries of the district. Since establishing The District, there has been a steady increase in business, activity and community engagement in downtown Mountain Home.

The downtown area is beginning to look more inviting with hanging flower pots paid for by the city, banners created by a local leadership group and murals popping up all over Mountain Home. In recent months, there have been multiple real estate transactions involving buildings in downtown Mountain Home with talks of new restaurants and shops coming into the area. There are even “Wine Walks” that invite patrons to drink a glass of wine and enjoy the downtown area and public art with their family and friends.

There has also been an increase in cultural events in Mountain Home. Hickory Park is right outside of The District and has been revitalized to host concerts and community events. Earlier this year, Farmers and Merchants Bank donated $75,000 to install a permanent stage for concerts in the park that have been utilized all summer in the Baxter Summer Concert Series. During the concert series, the tennis court in Hickory Park transforms into a food truck park and beer garden featuring local restaurants and breweries. COVID-19 has unfortunately disrupted some of the community events that were set to take place this fall, but some events, like the concert series, will continue with social distancing and mask wearing requirements.

When asked about entertainment districts, the Executive Vice President of the Mountain Home Chamber of Commerce, Angela Broome, said, “I have only seen positive changes with The District. We are seeing many improvements downtown; noticing more socialization and an increase in patronage.”

From her perspective, visitors are looking for things to do at night after enjoying fishing, hunting and golfing in and around Mountain Home. The District and summer concert series have been a way for residents and visitors to spend more time and money in downtown Mountain Home.

Mayor Adams shared a few key takeaways for communities looking to open an entertainment district in their own town:

Set Your Intention 

Mountain Home had a clear purpose for establishing their entertainment district which was to focus on downtown revitalization and capturing tourist dollars to be spent at restaurants and shops in downtown Mountain Home. If your community is considering an entertainment district, make sure that your community has an agreed upon intention and a plan for establishing an entertainment district that works for your community’s specific needs.

Involve the Downtown Community

Establishing an entertainment district may feel like a big change for your downtown community. In Mountain Home, leaders established an Entertainment District Oversight Committee that involved downtown business leaders and residents to establish rules, regulations and procedures for citizens and businesses to follow during entertainment district hours. Involving the downtown community will create buy-in from local businesses and provides a formal body to review potential events in the entertainment district area.

When asked for a final piece of advice, Mayor Adams said, “Come visit Mountain Home. It’s going to look a lot different since the last time you’ve been here.”

If establishing an entertainment district is right for the needs and interests of your community, it can be a catalyst for activity, engagement and business in your downtown area. Mountain Home is leading the way on entertainment districts in Arkansas and their downtown community is starting to thrive because of it.

You can learn more about Mountain Home and The District by visiting

By Dylan Edgell

First Impressions Tour gets to know Arkansas town from a unique perspective

The following post originally appeared as an article in the September 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Community Development Institute (CDI), a three-year community and economic development training program with one week of training per year, is held the first week of August by the Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED). Like many other large events across the state, due to rising COVID-19 cases, the CCED staff decided to cancel CDI 2020 for the Year 1, Year 2 and Year 3 classes. Fortunately, the CDI 2020 Advanced Year class, an optional, additional year of training for a small group of CDI graduates, was able to move forward! 

During the week of August 3 – 6, nine CDI graduates and community and economic development experts from Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma traveled to Beebe to conduct a high-level assessment of the community based on online research, a driving tour, interviews with community leaders, on-the-street interviews and a virtual focus group with citizens. Through their work, they shared a community presentation streamed via Facebook Live on the city’s Facebook page that outlined strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, “Badger Bites” (short term goals) and “Vanguard Vision” (long term goals). 

While the CDI Advanced Year is a unique experience for both CDI participants and the Arkansas community they are working with, other communities across the state can easily replicate the Advanced Year process to assess their own community. 

The class completes what the CCED staff call a “First Impressions Tour” (FIT) of the community. The FIT entails the following:

Online Research

The community’s online presence is assessed through the lens of different personas. These personas include: a single, young professional looking to move to the community, family with children looking to relocate, retiree, current citizen, tourist, small business owner and industrial prospect. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis is completed for city and community websites, social media pages, Arkansas Site Select, online real estate databases and travel websites based on the personas.

Driving Tour  

The driving tour assessment focuses on the community’s physical infrastructure (highways, roads, sidewalks, public utilities, signage and beautification efforts), social infrastructure (schools, healthcare, arts and cultural amenities, parks/recreational amenities and housing) and economic development infrastructure (small businesses, large employers, site and commercial building availability and downtown development). These amenities in the community are rated as very good, average, needs improvement or not available. During the driving tour, notes should be taken about why each amenity was given a particular rating.

Interviews and Focus Groups with Leaders and Citizens

Interviews and focus groups with community leaders and citizens are a very important part of the FIT process. If possible, these conversations should include representatives from: local government, Chamber/economic development, healthcare, education and workforce, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and the business community.

These representatives are divided into groups to have open conversations centered on the following topics: (1) Education and Workforce, (2) Health and Wellness, (3) Recreation and Things to Do, (4) Downtown Development, (5) Business and Industry, (6) Arts and Culture and (7) Physical Environment (built environment, natural environment, infrastructure, utilities, etc.). Participants in the interviews and/or focus groups are asked what is working well, what are the greatest challenges/opportunities and what should be prioritized moving forward for each topic area.

Based on the information gathered, a summary of findings are shared with the community and “next steps” (short or long term goals) are identified for the community to consider moving forward. The First Impressions Tour can be led by leaders within a community, but CCED staff recommends that a community interested in completing a FIT reach out to community and economic developers or leaders from a different community to assist with the assessment.

The CCED staff will continue to follow up with Beebe leaders, and a printed report of the CDI 2020 Advanced Year’s findings will be shared with the community. 

If your community is interested in developing a First Impressions Tour of your community, please reach out to Shelby Fiegel at or 501-450-5269. If you are interested in learning more about the Community Development Institute, visit CDI 2021 will be held August 2 – 6, 2021.

By Shelby Fiegel

CCED Student Opportunities

The Center for Community and Economic Development is committed to providing opportunities for UCA students to enhance their college experience and prepare them for the workforce. The Community and Economic Development Fellowship is one of these opportunities.

Each semester, CCED reviews and interviews applicants to become CED Fellows. The mission of the CED Fellowship is to expose students to a variety of community or economic development careers and provide networking, coaching and mentoring to enhance student career preparedness. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was restructured from an in-person format to a virtual one to ensure safety.

During the program, fellows attend virtual site visits that showcase community and economic development organizations in Arkansas. The fellows also participate in activities such as mock interviews, resume and cover letter reviews and mentorship from CCED staff. Additionally, fellows also have the opportunity to attend Community Development Institute and become members of the Arkansas Community Development Society. Fellowship activities are customized to fit students’ interests and needs.

We are currently accepting applications for the Spring 2021 CED Fellowship. To apply or learn more, click here.

Creating healthy communities

The following post originally appeared as an article in the August 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

We often associate health with physical or mental wellbeing on a personal level. Commonly, individual health is seen as something solely determined by lifestyle choices and is addressed in a clinic by a doctor, one-on-one. In reality, the components of health expand far beyond an individual’s body and/or choices. The community and environment we live in significantly impacts our individual health, and the Delta Population Health Institute (DPHI) is working to illuminate the extent of this impact in the Delta region. DPHI’s Executive Director Dr. Brookshield Laurent and Deputy Director Dr. Jennifer Conner are working to re-define what health means to Arkansans.

The Delta Population Health Institute is the community outreach arm of the New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (NYITCOM) at Arkansas State University. Launched in November of 2019, DPHI’s mission is to promote opportunities for better health by addressing health disparities in population groups and works to cultivate “opportunities for health in our families, neighborhoods, schools and jobs, achieving greater health equity among all people throughout Arkansas and the Delta.” Their mission is carried out through research, education, community engagement and policy engagement. 

Through these avenues, DPHI helps Arkansas communities create a culture of health. Dr. Laurent shared that a culture of health involves assessing your community and ensuring that everyone has equal opportunity and access to resources to thrive. 

Countless studies have shown that the greatest impact of health outcomes in our community concern factors outside of the clinic and outside of the hospital setting – specifically the conditions where we live, learn, work, grow and play,” she said. 

According to Dr. Laurent, one thing we can do today to create a culture of health in our communities is to reassess our definition of the term health with community members. 

The determinants of health expand beyond the individual. Every asset in a community is a determinant of health, from education to infrastructure. Redefining health also includes redefining how we heal. DPHI emphasizes the importance of thinking beyond the clinic. 

“You don’t need a medical degree to address health in your community,” said Dr. Laurent. The role of healer is not limited to doctors or nurses in a hospital. Anyone in a community who helps a person meet their basic needs is a healer. An educator is a healer. Even the roles of medical professionals expand beyond their office to the community to serve as leaders and resources, a concept DPHI teaches NYITCOM students.

While the COVID-19 pandemic creates difficult circumstances, it illuminates the interconnectedness of health and brings a new definition of health to the forefront. Dr. Conner cited access to the internet as an example of an issue exacerbated by the pandemic. A community with poor internet access is a community lacking in educational and economic opportunities and access to valuable resources. Dr. Conner added that we should listen to our community members and allow them to tell their stories. Then we can begin to fully understand the health impact on our communities.

The Delta Population Health Institute offers health resources, community resources and regularly updated information on the COVID-19 pandemic on their website. DPHI also published their inaugural report, which is accessible on their website. To access these resources and to learn more about DPHI, visit or email 

By Emily Cooper Yates

COVID-Safe Poverty Simulations

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of our lives, gatherings and events. Suddenly, out of an abundance of caution, we couldn’t attend or host events anymore, personal or professional. Thankfully, as the year has progressed, we have found ways to meet safely.

For the CCED Team, one of our favorite events to host is the Poverty Simulation. Of course, many of our Poverty Simulations were put on hold this year due to COVID safety measures and restrictions. Typically, these events facilitate groups well over 30 people. We move throughout large rooms, set to resemble a real town. We interact with each other, as families and neighbors. So one of our biggest challenges was determining a way to host these impactful events with safety at the forefront of our planning. 

Through collaboration with professionals and careful research, we were able to outline some COVID-19 safety guidelines. The safety guidelines we outlined were adopted by the Missouri Community Action Network. Click here to read more!

Mule Kick Brings Unique Twist to Magnolia, AR

The following post originally appeared as an article in the July 2020 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

After watching her mom-and-pop gas station in Taylor, Arkansas burn in the fall of 2017, business-owner Christy Oeui and partner Burt Adams realized the cost to rebuild was prohibitive. The couple set their sights on opening a unique establishment in Magnolia – one that would link the City of Magnolia and Columbia County with Southern Arkansas University (SAU). The business opened in June 2019 under the name Mule Kick and quickly became a major player in the community and economy of the region.

According to its website, Mule Kick is, “proud to offer unique pizza of the highest quality! From dairy free cheese to gluten free crusts, we feature options so that everyone can enjoy our fare. In addition to the pizzas, we have coffee, ice cream and snacks all made inside the Natural State.” I sat down with Christy Ouei to learn more about Mule Kick and its impact on the surrounding community:

Question: “What is the driving goal of your business?”

Ouei: “Business models suggest that there be ONE featured area and ONE driving goal. While that may be best for many businesses, I could not adopt that for Mule Kick. Customers pay for an experience, and we aim for them to have that every time. Our beer doesn’t take a backseat to our coffee, and our pizza doesn’t sit in second behind the beer. We are all of those things equally. We are simply more than you expect us to be.

We are the first restaurant in our area to make a wholehearted effort to be green. Promoting products made in Arkansas not only cut down on fuel requirements to bring in products from other states, but it highlights features of our state that Magnolians might not have known about otherwise.”

Question: “In what ways does Mule Kick get involved with the City of Magnolia and SAU?”

Ouei: “I want to let the community see us (all of us, managers and employees) working alongside them in Relay for Life, city cleanup days, and homecoming events. We will not just be the pizza place on the north end of town.

We don’t just have music on Saturday nights. We host trivia nights, comedy nights, painting on the patio, painting with a pro, classes to make reusable grocery bags out of old t-shirts, Improv, and talent shows. We sponsor many sporting events with SAU and Magnolia. I am on the board of the Magnolia Blossom Festival, Kiwanis Club, as well as the Workforce Development Board.”

Question: “Describe how Mule Kick connects with SAU students and prepares them to enter the workforce of the region.”

Ouei: “In hiring primarily SAU students, we wanted to be the springboard for them into a job within their career. We felt like they needed structure in an environment where making mistakes was considered learning and not failing. When we decided on a [business] name, we hosted a logo contest among the junior and senior graphic arts majors. It gave us a great connection to the art department and gave three students published work for their portfolios.

I feel like college preparation (no matter how thorough) can only take you so far. Eventually you have to get out into the real world and experience it for yourself. Mule Kick shines in this aspect. I hired an accounting assistant that is now working for Murphy Oil as an accountant; my technical officer is now working full time for a bank as their technical officer. One of our team members, who is a bartender and my brand manager, has started his own clothing apparel line.”

Question: “How have you adjusted your operations to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and what advice would you give to other business-owners during this time?”

Ouei: “The person I rely on most heavily now is my social media manager. She is the voice of Mule Kick to the world. We had a meeting right after we shut our doors and talked about how it was imperative that we remain visible to our customer-base. We serve pizza and beer, but we also sell atmosphere – an atmosphere that we now have to give away for free so that we will still have customers on the other side of COVID-19.

[To other business-owners:] do not take this time for granted! We have all been given a reprieve (unwelcome as it may be) from the constant motion of being in business. Haven’t had time to train that new staff? Now you do. Haven’t balanced your checkbook in the last year? You have plenty of time. Got a crew that isn’t connected as well? Have a potluck meal!”


Mule Kick represents what small, local businesses can achieve when entrepreneurs, like Christy Ouei, integrate their distinct passions and ideas with the communities they serve. To learn more about the products and services offered by Mule Kick, visit their website:


By William Gloster