November Training Events: Hot Spring County and Community Development Basics

November is one of the busiest times of the year. Our team is balancing training events and projects across the state while preparing to wrap up the 2017 year as the holidays approach. And even though our hands are full, we made time to host two of our biggest events the first week of November: Hot Spring County Conversations and Community Development Basics.

Hot Spring County Conversations was an event hosted by Hot Spring County, with the support of County Judge Dennis Thornton, in partnership with Entergy Arkansas, West Central Arkansas Planning and Development, Hot Spring County Economic Development Corporation, Malvern/Hot Spring County Chamber of Commerce, College of the Ouachitas, and our team at the Center. This event brought over 100 Hot Spring County community leaders together to hear community and economic development professionals from across the state and offer a forum for conversation to build a brighter future for the county. Jon Chadwell of the Newport Economic Development Commission and Russell Carey of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation shared how to engage young families and leaders and information related to Arkansas’ current and future workforce needs. Attendees also discussed the future of Hot Spring County, and were issued a challenge from the county judge.

You can view photos from Hot Spring County Conversations here.

Right after completing Hot Spring County Conversations, our team hosted Community Development Basics. This event was a one-day training session on (you guessed it!) the basics of community and economic development. The purpose of this session was to educate community leaders on the basics of community and economic development in an effort to strengthen Arkansas communities. Participants explored topics such as community and economic development, community capital, how data relates to community and economic development, cross sector collaboration and integrative leadership. Speakers included representatives from the UCA PhD Leadership program, Arkansas Center for Research in Economics, Arkansas Community Foundation, Arkansas Economic Development Institute, Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and the Jack Welch Institute for Management.

There is no cost to attend either of these training sessions. They were made possible through the Moving the Needle Grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

If you are interested in hosting a community and economic development training event in your community or if you need assistance with a program or project in you community, please reach out to our staff through our assistance form:

Kick Start Alma September Meeting

Kick Start Alma held its first public meeting on September 19th at the Alma community center. Over 60 people attended, including representatives from city government, local and state elected officials, Alma School District personnel, utility company representatives, the Alma Chamber, Alma Visionary Committee, Chaffee Crossing and the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District.

During the meeting, printed copies of the Community Development Institute (CDI) assessment report were made available. A summary of the report was also given. At this link you will find a shorter version that serves as an executive summary of the findings, and you will also find a more detailed report if you are interested in reviewing a more in-depth document.

The results of the community survey were also unveiled. Based on the survey results, five action teams are being formed to identify short and long term goals for the community. These action teams are: Arts and Culture, Job Creation, Downtown Revitalization, Beautification and Recreation, and Branding and Marketing.

The attached power point provides an overview of the assessment report,survey results, and action team descriptions.

During the meeting, the public voted on the core values that they believe should guide Kick Start Alma. The top three core values, as selected by the public, are:
– Being pro-active, with a can-do attitude
– Creativity, seeking breakthroughs that move us forward
– Serving as a catalyst that brings people together to make things happen

The next Kick Start Alma public meeting will be on October 23rd at 5:15 pm at the community center. At this meeting, the public will be asked to give input on each of the action team areas that are listed above. Individuals will also be able to sign up to serve on an action team.

Follow the Kick Start Alma Facebook page to keep up-to-date on upcoming meetings and information for the initiative at

Cheers to 31 Years! CDI 2017

CDI 2017 was held July 31 through August 4 at the University of Central Arkansas, and was themed “Your Journey to Success Starts Here.” Over 130 community leaders from Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas attended. A record number of 47 scholarships were given at this year’s CDI.

Highlights from CDI include Keynote Speaker Ben Muldrow’s presentation on “The Power of Place: Empowering People to Shape Their Place,” tours of the Ministry Center in Conway, Hendrix Village, South Main Street in Little Rock, and the Innovation Hub in North Little Rock, and various simulations that pushed participants to think about the development of their communities.

Our 31st Annual CDI concluded with a special graduation and awards ceremony. Twenty-three community leaders from Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas graduated from CDI. Brad Lacy, President and CEO of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, received the Bill Miller Award as recognition for his longstanding leadership and support of CDI, which includes many years of service as an instructor and sponsor. Central Arkansas Planning and Development District (CAPDD) and the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District (WAPDD) were honored with the Friend of Community Development Award, offered each year to an individual or organization that demonstrates strong support for community development and CDI. CAPDD’s Conya Spencer and WAPDD’s Sasha Grist (CDI Board Member) accepted the awards on behalf of the organizations. Tiffny Calloway of the Delta Regional Authority was selected by her peers to receive the Ernest Whitelaw Award. The Whitelaw award recipient is someone who has demonstrated dedication to professional community development practice, a willingness to assume leadership roles, and a spirit of caring and inclusion, along with strong personal integrity.

Year 1 and Year 2 Champions were also chosen by their peers: Dr. Rhonda McClellan (CDI Advisory Board Member) was selected for Year 1 and Don Clark for Year 2.

Our team at CDI would like to thank our sponsors, scholarship contributors, and Advisory Board Members for their support of our 2017 Institute! Without the support of these wonderful organizations and individuals, CDI would not have the vast impact on Mid-South communities it has today.

For pictures of the Institute, please visit:

Registration is now open for CDI 2018! The 32nd Annual Institute will be held July 30 – August 3, 2018. Register before December 15 for the early bird registration rate of $550!

Register today:

Exploring Searcy County

Searcy County, Arkansas claims to be “Your Authentic Ozark Family Playground,” and after our team at the Center for Community and Economic Development got the grand tour of the county by Chamber of Commerce board member and citizen Bob King, we can affirm that statement is true! Searcy County is a genuine diamond in the rough and a bright spot for Arkansas. The county is filled to the brim with breathtaking natural amenities, one-of-a-kind eateries, picturesque downtowns, and good ole southern charm.

Some of Searcy County’s assets (and our favorite spots) include:

  • Buffalo River – Tyler Bend is the closest access point to the Buffalo River for central Arkansas.
  • Chocolate Rolls – some people also claim Searcy County as the chocolate roll capitol of the world; chocolate rolls are an Arkansas original and you haven’t lived until you have tried one out.
  • Coursey’s Smoked Meats – confirmed by multiple sources as the “best bacon in the world.”
  • Dogwood Hills Guest Farm – a unique, hands on farm experience for all ages.
  • Downtown Leslie and downtown Marshall – stunning architecture, plenty of local mom and pop shops and the walkability factor is a big plus.
  • Kenda Drive-In – an old school, authentic drive-in movie theater showcasing the classics and new releases, plus special family friendly events.
  • Tyler Bend Campground – provides camping spots, river access, a pavilion and amphitheater.
  • Serenity Farm Bread – an oldworld bakery that uses ancient techniques perfected in Europe over the centuries to make naturally leavened bread, AKA a real “only in Arkansas” shop.
  • Skylark Cafe – a “hidden gem” in Leslie offering up light meals and heavy desserts that is sure to make you go, “Mmmmmm mmmmmm good!”
  • Ratchford Farms – a working Buffalo Ranch you can tour and buy locally sourced exotic meats and other retail items.
  • Ryan’s Main Street Grill – a hole in the wall restaurant serving up good food (excellent steaks) and the only place in the county you can have an adult drink with your meal.
  • … and so much more! You can view pictures of some spots along our tour here.

After our driving tour, we sat down with the local Tourism Development Committee at the Skylark Cafe to conduct an informal SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) assessment. During this discussion we took account of the county’s assets and shared what we thought were possible “next steps” for the county to explore.

Our team looks forward to working with Searcy County in the future!

Is your community interested in having our team come to your community to host a driving tour and strategic planning session? Contact us at for more information.

Engaging Your Community for Maximum Impact—The Kick Start Lonoke Story

Recently at the Breakthrough Solutions Conference “Reimagining Your Community/Region,” CCED/CDI Director Amy Whitehead and Kick Start Lonoke co-chair Ryan Biles shared “Engaging Your Community for Maximum Impact – The Kick Start Lonoke Story.”

Their presentation covered the following:


What is Kick Start Lonoke?

Kick Start Lonoke is an initiative of the community of Lonoke, in partnership with the University of Central Arkansas Community Development Institute and the Breakthrough Solutions Program at U of A Cooperative Extension. The purpose of the initiative is to assess the community, bring together citizens and key leaders to outline a vision for the future, organize around top priorities, and craft a strategic, action-oriented plan for the future.

Through extensive public outreach and engagement, the community identified its top priorities as branding and marketing, education and workforce development, downtown development and retail, beautification and recreation, and housing and real estate. The Kick Start Lonoke Action Plan was unveiled in May 2017. More information at

What Has Made Kick Start Lonoke Successful?

  • INVEST (the “Pre-work”): our process of making connections and on-boarding before we ever engaged with the UCA & the Kick Start Program
    • Diverse leadership group
    • Cultivating buy-in from influencers and doers
  • INVOLVE (the “legwork”): our approach to making sure all neighborhoods and generations understood that they were WANTED and NEEDED in this process
    • Rotate meeting location
    • Diverse leadership group and participation
    • Engage the community in a variety of ways, which might include a community survey, public meetings, and small working groups
    • Do a stakeholder analysis and communicate with each group in the way they want to be communicated with. It is not one size fits all
  • INFORM (the “hard work”): our methodology for continuous updates and perpetuating the conversation in a clear and concise manner
    • Use a variety of communication strategies- e-newsletter, emails, phone calls, social media, community calendars, a stand-alone website or Facebook page, the local paper and radio station
    • Continuously ask for feedback from key stakeholders to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table and take everyone’s temperature on what else needs to be done and how it should be done
    • Recognize the hard work and achievements of volunteers and the community, and take the time to celebrate publicly

Things to Consider Before Starting Your Own Community Planning Process

  • Recruit a good communicator
  • Respect people’s time
  • Start with the end in mind
  • Identify short-term projects to get quick wins
  • Determine if there is a desire to work together for positive change—not all communities are ready and sometimes trust-building activities have to be conducted or the right leadership has to step up before a planning process can be initiated.


Other speakers and communities from across the state shared innovative stories and creative programs. Keynote speaker Zachary Mannheimer, Principal Community Planner, McClure Engineering Company spoke on “Creative Placemaking – Economic Development for the Next Generation.” All in all, the Breakthrough Solutions conference did not disappoint! Participants left with a fresh perspective on community and economic development in the 21st century.

You can view photos the the Breakthrough Solutions pre-conference here.

Booneville Strategic Planning Session

The Center for Community and Economic Development partnered with HarnessPoint Community Solutions to host community leaders in Booneville, Arkansas for a free, one-day strategic planning session. Leaders discussed the history of the city, conducted a SWOT analysis, identified their mission/vision and came up with action steps to move their community forward. This session was made possible by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s “Moving the Needle” grant.

Susan Featherson and Gerald Baker of the Booneville Chamber of Commerce, Pam Alexander of HarnessPoint Community Solutions and Sasha Grist of Western Arkansas Planning Development District shared their insights into the day in the following video:

Is your community interested in hosting a similar event? Are you a part of an organization that needs help identifying where you “need to go” next? Our team is currently taking applications for another Strategic Planning Session this summer. Learn more and apply here:

UCA Students Create Commercial for Local Community

A team of University of Central Arkansas (UCA) students created a commercial for the Park Hill neighborhood in North Little Rock aimed to attract new residents and businesses to the community. UCA’s Center for Community and Economic Development (the Center) connected Park Hill and the students after the creation of a business outreach and climate survey and report that evaluated successes and areas for improvement in the Park Hill community.

The final report outlined steps that community leaders could take to create a better business environment in Park Hill which resulted in the opportunity for students enrolled in Li Zeng’s service-learning courses to help the neighborhood with their community and economic development efforts. The UCA graphic design students identified a commercial as an opportunity for the community to support current businesses, attract new businesses and promote the area to potential residents and tourists.

Li Zeng, assistant professor in the UCA Art Department, said, “Park Hill was first introduced into the Design Think-a-thon program last year. Over the course of a year, my students worked with Jenna Rhodes, a Park Hill representative, and other residents in the community to develop the commercial.”

Zeng went on to say, “The relationships the Center establishes with communities like Park Hill allows students to gain real world experiences through their service-learning courses while also contributing to local communities.”

The Park Hill commercial premiered in February and will be utilized in a variety of ways by the city of North Little Rock and the Park Hill neighborhood to assist in the attraction of new business investments and potential citizens.

To view the commercial visit

Think A ThonPictured above: Park Hill was first connected to UCA students through a Design Think-a-thon. Students from all over the state competed in the challenge and the winning organization/community (Park Hill) received follow up assistance from Li Zeng’s graphic design service learning class. The group with the winning presentation included (from left to right): Josh Dover, Austin Sandy and Jones McConnell.

Marketing Sites and Buildings in Your City

“Marketing sites and buildings in your city” by CCED staff was originally published in Arkansas Municipal League’s City & Town magazine.

Most cities have vacant or available properties that can be utilized for economic development. There are several avenues through which those properties can be marketed using existing site selection tools and resources, enabling a city to turn liabilities into economic opportunities.

Steve Jones, building and sites manager for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), works closely with cities all over the state to identify potential real estate that can be marketed for economic development purposes. Steve may advise on the highest and best use for a property and provide measurement and diagram services for buildings that are eligible for the state’s site selection website, The site selection website is a partnership among Entergy, AEDC, and cities. In order for property to be listed on the website it must be industrial, warehousing, commercial, or office related. A building must be 10,000 square feet or larger and must be available to be occupied within 90 days; sites must be 10 acres or larger. All property must have a set price.

If cities have available buildings or sites that can be marketed, but do not meet the minimum requirement to be listed on the website, Steve still recommends tracking those properties through a local database so that the information is readily available if an opportunity should arise.

For the site selection website, there is one designated property manager that is responsible for uploading site and building information. The mayor or city manager designates a property manager for their city. The mayor will also designate an editor, whose role is to update the city’s profile information, and an economic development point of contact will be assigned to work directly with AEDC when economic development prospects are interested in a property. Sometimes cities go through periods of time where these roles are unfilled. It is very important that the property manager role be filled, because that individual will be contacted once a month to verify that all property information is up-to-date. If there is no contact from this person after a period of time, the property will become inactive on the website.

In addition to the Entergy/AEDC-supported statewide site selection website, Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas (ECA) has recently unveiled an economic development website,, that shows sites and buildings available in distribution cooperative territories. According to JD Lowery, community and economic development manager for ECA, this website is an effort to “provide rural communities within our territories with additional marketing opportunities that complement AEDC’s website. Interested communities can contact their local distribution cooperative representative for more information.” The minimum requirements are the same as those required to be listed on AEDC’s statewide site selection tool, and ECA’s website includes aerial videos of sites and buildings shot with unmanned aerial videos, otherwise known as drones.

ECA hopes to have a video from each of its 17 territories within the next year and a half. “A community with growth aspirations must have a strategy for marketing itself to business,” explains Joe Bailey, senior project manager in business recruitment for Entergy Arkansas. “Without a strategy a lot of time, money and energy can be wasted.”

So what should a city do to make the most efficient use of its resources and effectively market available sites and buildings? Entergy offers a variety of services to the communities it serves, including site analysis and certification, GIS/mapping, strategic planning and marketing assistance. Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas is also an important economic development resource for the communities it serves. Make sure all your property information is maintained and updated, and that your city has a designated property manager, community editor, and economic development point of contact with the state.

Joe Bailey with Entergy recommends a city ask itself strategic questions so that it can better understand its competitive advantage in the global marketplace, and position itself to be most competitive for investment. How can my city find a niche in the changing energy market? What will happen if/when the price of natural gas goes back up? Are we an attractive community for millennials? Do we have a natural resource that is currently underutilized? Can we take advantage of our location to eliminate business costs for a particular industry sector?

It may be helpful to have a target industry analysis. If your city has a site or building listed on the site selection website, consider AEDC’s Prospect Readiness Education Program (PREP). This training will help local leaders improve their interactions with prospects and respond to RFIs through the site selection process. Make sure your sites are ‘shovel-ready’ and that the site is clean, mowed, and visible. While attracting outside investors to fill empty land or buildings is not the only strategy a city should pursue, it should be part of a balanced approach to economic development at the local level. If you have available sites and buildings that can be marketed to site selectors and businesses, contact your utility provider or AEDC to find out how to get these properties appropriately listed through all available avenues.

Empower Your Small Town

In partnership with the Crossett Chamber of Commerce and the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District, our team held the last of our 2015-2016 regional training events, or as we have referred to them “boot camps,” in Crossett, Arkansas. This event, titled Empower Your Small Town, targeted southeast Arkansas community leaders and shared community and economic development topics similar to past regional trainings, such as: “Economic Development 101 & Community Branding and Marketing,” “Role of the Local Official in Economic Development,” “Site Selection, Preparing the Product, and Working with AEDC,” “The Community’s Role in Retaining and Growing Small Businesses in a Challenging Economy,” “Fueling Local Economic Change through Youth Entrepreneurship,” and an interactive activity called “Using What You Have.”

Twenty-eight community leaders from various southeast Arkansas communities attended Empower Your Small Town. Participants were able to interact with one another to build regional partnerships and got to interact with our amazing speakers: Jon Chadwell with the Newport Economic Development Commission, Steve Jones with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Jeff Amerine with Startup Junkie Consulting, and Stephanie Horton with the Arkansas Small Business Technology and Development Center in Monticello. You can view pictures of Empower Your Small Town on our Facebook page.

Empower Your Small Town is a part of initiatives to support the Center’s Rural Community and Economic Development Grant awarded by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF), as a part of their Moving the Needle Strategic Plan 2.0. The Center will offer a variety of similar training events and technical assistance across the state throughout the next three years supported by funding from WRF.

Does this training sound like something you would be interested in hosting or attending? If so, we encourage you to reach out to us at (501) 450-5269 or to get plugged in to future activities at the Center. You can also review upcoming training events here. As previously stated, the Center will continue to hold regional training events throughout the next two years and we would love to come to a community near you.


The Future of Workplace Inclusion: LGBTQ Equality

The business case for why equality is our business

On October 11th, The Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub hosted a one-day summit titled “The Future of Workplace Inclusion: LGBTQ Equality.” This complimentary conference was presented by the Human Rights Campaign and supported by Acxiom, Argenta Wealth Management, Cranford Co., EGP PLLC, Tyson Foods, Walmart, Arkansas Times and Starbucks. The audience included corporate leaders, human resource and diversity managers, state and municipal leaders and others interested in learning about the business and economic development case for equality.
Participants learned best practices for making their business or organization inclusive of LGBTQ people, heard from corporate leaders who established inclusive policies and learned how to improve their business rating on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index. The overarching theme of this event was the importance of building a culture of diversity and inclusion in Arkansas’ workplaces to create a stronger statewide economy.

Kendra Johnson, HRC Arkansas State Director, started the event by welcoming attendees and sponsors. Beck Bailey, Deputy Director of Employee Engagement at HRC, kicked off the first session on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index. The CEI is the national benchmarking tool on corporate policies and practices pertinent to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees.

The second session was a panel where business leaders shared best practices and experiences within their respective organizations. Deb Sinta, Vice President of Talent at Tyson, Jerry C. Jones, Chief Ethics and Legal Officer, Executive Vice President & Assistant Secretary of Acxiom, and Jane Behrends, Walmart’s Senior Director of Strategy, Changes, and Communications, were the panelists. The panel shared the following:
• We are focused on acquiring the most diverse talent and being the place that people want to come work.
• If it’s good food for business, associates and customers then it is good for the community.
• Expected behaviors should guide the conversation rather than individual beliefs.
• Businesses are seeing a transition in company purpose aligning with social good.
• It is important for organizations to practice top-down messaging related to human rights issues. If we don’t have human rights, then what do we have?
• What would happen if [insert protected class here] was discriminated against or treated poorly by customers, co-workers or suppliers?
• There is tremendous power in the private sector to drive social change.
• The business community has led the way in establishing diverse and inclusive workplaces.

Beck Bailey led the third session titled “Making the Case for Equality: Challenges, Opportunities, and Tools for Change.” During this segment, the question of “how sexual orientation and gender identity come to work” was raised. The answer is during water cooler conversations. “It’s about the little moments where we share our personal lives. What’d you do this weekend and who’d you do it with?” Having conversations with coworkers can build working relationships and increase productivity. However, these same conversations can cause discomfort for members of the LGBTQ community.

It has been proven there is a direct correlation between engagement and being comfortable at work. An example of this relationship can be found in the HRC Cost of the Closet report. “Employee engagement suffers by up to 30% due to unwelcoming environments.” This lack of engagement directly impacts the recruitment and retention of employees. A business’ reputation on fairness and equality not only affects current and future employees, but also customers and suppliers.

The LGBTQ community may represent roughly 4% of the population but they hold approximately $900 billion dollars in buying power. This number does not include allies of the community. Recently, there has been a rise in people looking to spend their dollars with companies that align with their values. Consumers are not the only ones who are being selective about who they do business with. Companies are also selecting their suppliers, manufacturers and distributors according to their social practices.

Key takeaways from “The Future of Workplace Inclusion: LGBTQ Equality” conference are as follows:

• The LGBTQ community and non-LGBTQ allies have substantial buying power.
• Businesses have a significant influence on communities and legislation.
• Sexuality and gender identity come up in everyday conversations.
• Workplace education and training vary depending on company climate. Some companies need more extensive training while others do not.
• Having policies that are inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer employees improves recruitment and retention.
• Regardless of company size, the Corporate Equality Index can be a resource for instituting inclusive policies.
• Expected behaviors should guide workplace practices rather than individual beliefs.

Moving forward, it is important for companies and organizations to adopt policies and practices that are inclusive to all people without regards to race, ethnicity, religious belief, age, gender identity, marital status, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Doing so will build a culture of diversity and inclusion in Arkansas’ workplaces resulting in a stronger statewide economy. Employers will be able to attract and retain talented employees, increase sales across market segments and improve the company’s reputation within the community and industry.