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.

Making a Difference in Workforce Development

Pea Ridge School“Making a Difference in Workforce Development” by CCED staff was originally published in Arkansas Municipal League’s City & Town magazine.

Workforce development is consistently  cited as one of the most important economic development issues in Arkansas. Educating people, while simultaneously fulfilling the needs of various industries, is no easy task. Workforce development requires input from the education sector, state/local government, and industry; as a result, there is no single “right” approach.

Regardless of the challenges facing workforce development, one city in Arkansas has developed a novel approach that seeks to educate high school students while also fulfilling the needed workforce skill sets of local existing industry. That city is Pea Ridge. The school: Pea Ridge Manufacturing and Business Academy (PRMBA). PRMBA is a conversion charter school within the Pea Ridge School District that focuses on meeting the needs of business and industry through educational programs designed around specific employment pathways. As a conversion charter school, PRMBA operates within the Pea Ridge School district, but has the flexibility to hire teachers with the unique skill sets needed for its employment pathway focus.

Founded in 2014, PRMBA has enjoyed a great deal of growth in a short period of time. Open to Pea Ridge School District students in their junior and senior year, 87 associates attended the school in the first year. Now in its second year, 140 associates are attending PRMBA. The nature of PRMBA’s curriculum is what sets it apart. Five pathways are available to associates to specialize in: Industrial Technology, Healthcare, Marketing and Supply Chain, Plastic and Metal Fabrication, and Multimedia Production. PRMBA associates class schedules are very similar to college schedules. Associates are in charge of managing their time.

“Our associates learn much better by doing,” PRMBA Director Charley Clark said. “We don’t talk about forklifts, we drive forklifts.”

This learn-by-doing model prepares students with the skills needed to enter the workforce or to pursue more specialized training at a college or technical program. However, the pathway model requires extensive time and training away from campus. As a result, PRMBA students take their required courses in subjects such as History, English, Science, and Mathematics
through an iSchool format. According to Clark, PRMBA uses one of the “most advanced digital learning environments in the USA.” Here associates work at their own pace anywhere they can access the Internet. Supervision of teachers in each content area ensures that associates are appropriately grasping the material.

With such a unique instruction model, local businesses are excited to be a part of PRMBA. According to Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree, local businesses see PRMBA as an economic development asset.

“Given the ability to listen to the needs of local business and industry, not only is PRMBA supplying individuals with the skill sets and work ethic they need, PRMBA is saving them time and money normally needed to train new hires. PRMBA has a direct effect to the business bottom line,” Crabtree said.

The five pathways were selected through collaboration with local existing industries. Each pathway was identified as an area of needed workforce development for Pea Ridge. Local industries were selected as partners not to simply help fund the program’s pathways, but to assist with curriculum development, instruction, certifications for course work, and networking opportunities. Through this collaborative process, major industrial partners stepped forward to work with PRMBA. Walmart, J.B. Hunt, Daisy Outdoor Products, Mercy Health Systems, and Coca-Cola are just a few of the local businesses supporting PRMBA’s approach to workforce development.

“Our business partners are very excited about the school and are confident in its curriculum,” Clark said. “The business partners essentially set the curriculum that we follow.”

According to Clark, by the end of PRMBA’s first year, 100 percent of its graduates were either employed, enrolled in the military, or headed to college. Year two will be closing this spring, and Clark sees workforce development as being an integral part of PRMBA’s success. Clark added that “some of our associates are preparing for college, but some are preparing for a career that starts right after high school graduation.”

PRMBA’s approach to education shows a unique balance between the interests of local industry and the interests of its associates. Mayor Crabtree sees this as a distinct advantage for Pea Ridge. Within a short period of time, he has witnessed the positive effects of PRMBA’s style of education. “We are seeing high school students become responsible young adults,” Crabtree said. “I have watched individuals who did not want to be in school transformed into individuals who are excited about being in school, excited about learning and excited about their futures.”

30th Annual Community Development Institute

A diverse group of over 120 community leaders from the mid-south region participated in the 30th Annual Community Development Institute (CDI) at the University of Central Arkansas. The five-day training session, held August 1-5, exposed participants to elite community and economic development speakers and interactive sessions aimed to enhance their skill sets. The week’s activities also included remarks by Governor Asa Hutchinson, a special luncheon to commemorate the 30th Annual Institute, and tours that took participants throughout central Arkansas.

Two special Keynote Speakers, Ed McMahon of the Urban Land Institute and Ted Abernathy of Economic Leadership LLC, left participants, CDI partners, and guests primed and ready to move their communities forward.

CDI concluded with a special graduation and awards ceremony. Thirty two community leaders from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi graduated from CDI and became new, shiny links in our alumni network! Newport Economic Development Commission (NEDC) was 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. NEDC Director Jon Chadwell accepted the award on behalf of the organization. Ivy Owen, Executive Director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, received the Bill Miller Award as recognition for his longstanding leadership and support of CDI, which includes many years of service as a CDI Board Member, Class Director, Instructor, and Sponsor.

Lisa Johnson of Bossier City, Louisiana 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; Jonathan Dean was selected for Year 1 and Tiffny Calloway for Year 2.

Amy Whitehead, CDI Director, said, “The CDI staff and advisory board are proud to honor the award winners and graduates of the 30th Annual Community Development Institute. UCA has been able to fulfill its mission of lifelong learning and public service through programs like CDI, and CDI’s network of community and economic development professionals have been instrumental in that work.”

The Community Development Institute, established in 1987 at the University of Central Arkansas, in Conway, Arkansas, trains community and economic development professionals from Arkansas and surrounding states. The complete CDI experience is a three-year training program, with five days of training per year. Participants move through the program curriculum in cohorts, and are exposed to a comprehensive, applied approach to the field of community and economic development.

For more information about CDI, visit

For pictures of the Institute, including participants who graduated, please visit:







Community Murals As Economic Development Tools

Conway Mural“Community murals as economic development tools” by CCED Director Amy Whitehead and CCED 2015 intern Katelyn Wilkins was originally published in Arkansas Municipal League’s City & Town magazine.

The arts can be a useful tool for economic development at the local level. Many municipalities in Arkansas are beginning to embrace arts-based initiatives as a development tool. “Arts programs and quality-of-place initiatives are the minimum price of admission when competing in a global marketplace for jobs and investment,” said Tim Allen, President and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. “On a local level, community murals and other arts initiatives encourage a sense of excitement among the citizens and promote reinvestment in downtown.”

Recently featured in state publications was a week long festival in Fort Smith called The Unexpected Project: A Festival of Murals, where artists from around the world converged on the city to paint seven murals as part of a larger arts-based festival. Other cities, such as Conway and North Little Rock, have embraced arts as a strategy for tapping into community talent and expanding the cultural offerings of the community in order to create the kind of place where residents and visitors are eager to live and visit.

Americans for the Arts, a leading nonprofit for advancing the arts, provides insight on why the arts can have a positive impact on the economy, including:

  • Arts are an export industry—$72 billion was the
    export value of the arts in 2011.
  • Arts drive tourism—the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the percentage of international travelers visiting museums on their trips to the U.S. has steadily increased since 2003.
  • Arts strengthen the economy—the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the arts and culture sector represents 3.25 percent of GDP, and generates $135 billion in economic activity annually.
    Arts are good for local merchants—attendees at nonprofit arts events spend money on meals, parking, and babysitters, thus stimulating the economy.

Many cities that want to begin working on a community-based arts initiative begin with a mural in their downtown area. According to Dr. Gayle Seymour, Associate Dean of UCA’s College of Fine Arts and Communication, there are reasons this may be a good place to start. They can be fast and cheap. Though the process for creating a mural can take close to a year, the actual time needed to paint the mural is only one to two months. Considering the high cost of other development projects, murals only cost between $25,000 and $35,000 for the artist, scaffolding, paints, signage, and other supplies. This makes them financially accessible to many communities, though pooling of local resources is usually necessary.

“Most grants in the arts are made to nonprofit organizations (schools, arts agencies, etc.) and require matching funds, usually a 1:1 match,” Seymour said. “This requires many partners who can contribute cash, personnel, supplies, in-kind services, etc. Easy options are Arkansas Arts Council and Mid-America Arts Alliance.” Once murals are complete, they are safe and easy. Murals also require limited maintenance. According to her experience, Seymour advised that murals can last up to 25 years if an appropriate site is selected and properly prepared.

Finally, one of the most important aspects of a mural is its connection to community history and values. This provides community attachment to the mural, making people more likely to want to preserve the mural while also attracting tourists looking for art that reflects local culture. If a city is interested in creating a mural, the local team should seeks ways to involve the community either through design or artist selection, site selection, and/or assisting with painting the mural with oversight from the artist. For a truly community-based mural, selection of the right artist will mean that person will listen to and involve the public, as well as champion the process.

Murals have the opportunity to tell the community’s story, create a unique experience, engage citizens, increase foot traffic and tourism, increase appreciation for the arts and artists, and increase overall attractiveness of the space. Allen sees this as the case for Fort Smith. “When a company or consultant visits Fort Smith, the economic development benefit of the arts is evident; they see we are growing our community, supporting the arts, and creating a vibrant quality of place for their employees and families,” Allen said. “This makes Fort Smith more competitive when compared to larger cities with a robust arts program.”

Southwest and Northwest Arkansas Economic Development Boot Camps

It’s May – let that sink in for a moment. 2016 has zoomed by, hasn’t it? At least for our team it has.

Our team at the Center for Community and Economic Development has been moving full speed ahead into this year. We’re finishing up projects all over the state in North Little Rock, Crossett, Heber Springs, and the both the Technical Assistance for Mayors (TAM) program and our Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) Regional Economic Development Boot Camps have wrapped up for the 2015-2016 year.

In this post, we would like to specifically delve into our Southwest and Northwest Economic Development Boot Camps. An astounding 55 community leaders from 39 different communities attended the Southwest Boot Camp in Magnolia and there were 40 attendees at the Northwest Boot Camp in Bentonville. The training events were 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.

Participants at the Boot Camps underwent a day full of free community and economic development training on a variety of topics: “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.” You can view the SWA Agenda here and the NWA agenda here. There were also plenty of opportunities built into the agendas for participants to network with each other and begin regional conversations.

We would like to thank our speakers who have stuck with us throughout this year to provide the regional Boot Camps: Jon Chadwell with the Newport Economic Development Commission, Steve Jones with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Jeff Amerine with Startup Junkie Consulting, and Teresa Cheeks Wilson and Kathy Moore Cowan with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Memphis Branch. Each of our speakers has been an extremely valuable piece for both our team and our participants; they are truly leaders in our field.

We would also like to thank our partners for both events: the Southwest Arkansas Planning and Development District, Golden Triangle Economic Development Council, Magnolia Economic Development Corporation, Northwest Arkansas Planning Development District, and Arkansas Economic Developers.

Does this training sound like something you would be interested in hosting or attending? Do you know local officials or community leaders that would benefit from this kind of training? 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. 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 if there is a need. More details on 2016-2017 events will be released in Fall 2016.


The Arkansas Delta: Why It Still Matters

The Arkansas Delta – why does it still matter?

This is the question that was examined, poked, and prodded on Thursday, April 7 at “The Arkansas Delta: Why It Still Matters,” presented by Simmons Bank. The Simmons Bank conference was offered to community leaders and economic development professionals across the state at no fee thanks to Simmons Bank and other sponsors who supported the event: Ritter Communications, Arkansas Farm Bureau, Lile Real Estate, the Delta Regional Authority, the Agricultural Council of Arkansas, Community Health Centers of Arkansas/Mid-Delta Health Systems, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Garver, the St. Francis Levee District and the Roberts Law Firm.

The day long agenda focused on six main topics: health care, economic trends, education issues, race and ethnicity, agriculture, and the event culminated with a discussion on economic development.

The event kicked off with a welcome from George Makris, CEO of Simmons First Nation Corp., and Rex Nelson, Director of Corporate Community Relations at Simmons Bank. Next, Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) Mike Preston gave an overview of the Delta from the perspective of his organization and the state of Arkansas. He encouraged Delta communities to focus on ecotourism, quality of life initiatives, and keeping youth (Millennials) engaged and connected.

Congressman Bruce Westerman of the 4th Congressional District also shared his thoughts on why the Delta still matters. He stated that in life every person must have four necessities: food, water, shelter, and clothing. He then went on to say that the Delta provides one of those four necessities – food. The Delta is the bread basket of America and is crucial to so many peoples’ lives. Westerman implored that the focus of the Delta is agriculture and that we must utilize that asset to its fullest potential.

Chris Masingill of the Delta Regional Authority was introduced next. Masingill relayed concerns about workforce issues in the Delta, but stated these issues are being combated by the growth of local two and four year colleges and their ever developing relationships with industry and local businesses in the area. Local schools and businesses continue to work together to identify workforce needs and develop programs to train the workforce with the skills necessary for our citizens and our businesses to be successful. He urged everyone in the room to remember that Arkansas must be competitive on a global scale, and that education must be at the forefront of our minds as we move toward a brighter future. He remarked on how innovative the state’s new “Be Proud Be Pro” program, aimed at encouraging Arkansans (especially youth) to explore technical careers, is, and stated that, “We can’t continue to demonize workforce training and technical programs. These areas must be showcased as important and we need to encourage our kids to enter these programs; they need to be career ready or college ready when they leave high school.”

Masingill also recognized the importance of growing small businesses and the network of entrepreneurs in Arkansas. He cited statistics to make his point: over 50% of employers in the Delta are small business owners and businesses with seven or fewer employees make up the majority of those small businesses.

He ended by stating, “We can’t keep doing the same thing. We must innovate and change.”

The first of four panel discussions, “Health Care in the Delta,” followed Massingill’s remarks. The panel consisted of: Delta lawyer and businessman Raymond Abramson (moderator), UAMS East Director Dr. Becky Hall, President and CEO of Arkansas Hospital Association Bo Ryall, President of Community Health Center of Arkansas Al Sliger, Chief of Staff at Jefferson Regional Medical Center Dr. David Lupo, and Billy Tarpley, Executive Director of Arkansas State Dental Association. The panel made the following comments about the state of health in the Delta:

  • Panelists made comments on the “Red County Report,” released by the Office of Minority Health & Health Disparities at the Arkansas Department of Health. The most shocking statistic from this report shared is that 17 counties in the Delta have a lower life expectancy (10 years less) than counties in Northwest Arkansas.
  • More money needs to be funneled into prevention and wellness programs because most of the life threatening diseases diagnosed in the Delta are preventable. Focusing on prevention and wellness will decrease the likelihood of these diseases and will positively change statistics.
  • Healthcare is a glaring under served issue in the Delta and education is key to changing that. Medicine is about relationships; leaders in the Delta need to develop relationships with large hospitals and connect with local health organizations to ensure there are no duplication of efforts.
  • The amount of primary care and family doctors is shrinking. All of us need to encourage youth to go into the medical field and to stay in Arkansas, primarily the Delta because it is so under served.
  • One panelist remarked that Arkansas Works is an excellent program and will continue to provide much needed benefits for those who would otherwise not have access to healthcare.
  • Delta leaders need to look into programs where communities/the state help pay for students’ medical school in return for coming to a specific community and working for an allotted amount of time. Encourage a “grow your own” mentality in Delta communities – talk to local youth and inspire them to enter the medical field and return to their hometown to provide healthcare.

Dr. Greg Hamilton of UALR Institute for Economic Advancement then gave a presentation on “Eastern Arkansas Demographic and Economic Trends: An Exploratory Analysis.” Dr. Hamilton analyzed demographic and economic data from all Delta counties and shared his findings with the audience. His research showed that there has been a severe population decline in Delta counties, with the only major growth happening in Northeast Arkansas around Jonesboro. Withholding the Craighead/Greene county area, the Delta has also seen decreases in average personal income (PI) since the 1970’s, which Dr. Hamilton equated to wealth and potential economic development growth.

The second panel discussion, “Education Issues in the Delta,” followed Dr. Hamilton’s report. The panel consisted of: Dr. Fitz Hill of Arkansas Baptist College (moderator), Deputy Commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education Dr. Mark Gotcher, Executive Director of the Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators Dr. Richard Abernathy, Executive Director of the Arkansas Education Association Tracey-Ann Nelson, Chancellor of UAPB Dr. Laurence Alexander, Executive Director of Arkansas Public School Resource Center Scott Smith, and Executive Director of KIPP Delta Schools Scott Shirley. The panel made the following comments about education issues in the Delta:

  • Moderator Dr. Fitz Hill shared with the audience that he knew education was a major issue in the Delta when in 2005 he read a newspaper article that stated Toyota wanted to locate a plant in Arkansas, but decided not to because the literacy rate was too low.
  • Panelists across the board agreed that we should not put all of our focus on four-year college degrees. We must focus on skills training and technical degrees. We need to change the direction of our local schools on a regional level to insure our students get the education they need to get a job with local industry.
  • “A great economy supports a great local school system. Whereas a poor economy tends to support a poor local school system.” Schools systems must be relevant to local businesses and the economy to be successful.
  • Where do you find talent? You develop it. Our students are our leaders of tomorrow and we must equip them to be prosperous.
  • To create fruitful education systems, we need to: build relationships between educational institutions and businesses, identify and remove barriers for students, teachers, and administrators, and develop education initiatives that stem from local support. Communities must “buy-in” to their local schools.
  • Continue to support, mentor, and grow our teachers to keep them relevant in their classrooms.
  • Remember: universities contribute to their local communities in a variety of ways, namely research and technical assistance. Develop a relationship with your local university.
  • Do a SWOT analysis of your community and work with your local partners to build on your strengths and combat your threats.

During lunch, keynote speaker Dr. John Kirk, a professor of History at UALR, discussed “Race and Ethnicity in the Arkansas Delta: Historical Perspective.” Dr. Kirk discussed the importance of civil rights history in the Delta and encouraged Delta leaders to connect to and record that history. He pointed out that there is a huge opportunity for Arkansas to tell its stories through expanded civil rights tourism. This presentation opened up discussion about Arkansas’ past and the future of race relations.

After lunch, the conference transitioned to the third panel discussion, “Agriculture in the Delta.” The panel consisted of: Ritter Arnold of E. Ritter & Co. (moderator), President of Farm Bureau Arkansas Randy Veach, Executive Vice President of the Agricultural Council of Arkansas Andrew Grobmyer, Deputy Secretary of the Arkansas Agriculture Department Cynthia Edwards, and Arkansas Regional Chairman of Simmons Bank Freddie Black. The panel made the following comments about agriculture in the Delta:

  • Agriculture is the powerhouse of the Delta. We need to make sure it is still a primary focus in our minds – we need to explore ways to support Delta farmers and to capitalize our agricultural assets.
  • Technology and equipment have completely changed the landscape of agriculture; especially in the Delta.
  • Going forward we must accept that automation will grow at an accelerated rate and our farmers need to keep up with the advancing technologies.
  • More specialty and organic crops will likely spread across the Delta because the land is so fertile and versatile.
  • There is a growing concern among agriculturalists and farmers about how to get youth involved in farming and to get them to stay in the Delta on the farm.

The last piece of the conference was the final panel discussion concerning “Economic Development in the Delta.” The panelists were: Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration at UAPB Carla Martin (moderator), President and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber Randy Zook, Board President of Arkansas Economic Developers Joe Bailey, President and CEO of the Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance Lou Ann Nisbett, Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation, and Economic Development at UAPB Dr. Mary Benjamin, and Community and Economic Development Manager at Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation JD Lowery. They shared the following concerning economic development in the Delta:

  • We need to look at communities from an institutional perspective: churches, education, government, economy, etc. All of these institutions must work together to make our communities prosperous.
  • Chambers need to act as superintendents for communities. They must be leaders, conveners, and communicators.
  • Workforce is the number one issue for Arkansas economic development. As leaders, we need to confer with our schools and businesses to assess our current educational environments and offer the right training that will create economic growth.
  • To get restaurants and retail, you have to build your population and income base. You must also have good schools for families and a high quality of life.
  • In the Delta we have to overcome the negative perception of low skills and educational attainment of our citizens if we want more businesses to come to our communities. If we change statistics and change perception, we will boom. As we continue to develop our workforce, we must play to our strengths and celebrate our successes.
  • Key Arkansas Delta economic development takeaways: know your SWOT, get local businesses involved in your community, perception is reality so market yourself properly, focus on raising educational attainment and expectations, create partnerships that add value to your initiatives, listen to Millennials and provide them with what they need to be successful, and don’t be afraid of reinvention.

Overall, “The Arkansas Delta: Why It Still Matters” did three very important things: 1) gave insights into the Arkansas Delta’s current situation and its future, 2) brought together a multitude of community leaders from all across the state to network and discuss how to make Arkansas a more prosperous place, and 3) answered the question, “Why does the Arkansas Delta still matter?”

Our team at the Center for Community and Economic Development would like to thank Simmons Bank for offering this conference and bringing important Arkansas stakeholders together. Our knowledge of the Arkansas Delta has expanded and we look forward to helping Delta communities in the future through whatever means necessary.

The Road to Recovery in Faulkner County

shelby-fiegel“The road to recovery in Faulkner County” by CCED Project Coordinator Shelby Fiegel was originally published in Arkansas Municipal League’s City & Town magazine.

April 27, 2014, will be forever ingrained in the minds of Faulkner County citizens, specifically those from the cities of Vilonia and Mayflower. Last April, a devastating F4 tornado hit the two cities, causing major damage both physically and mentally for those affected. There were 16 fatalities and 193 injuries along the tornado’s 43-mile trek. It was recorded as the deadliest tornado in the country during 2014 and the deadliest in Arkansas since 1968.

Though the road to recovery was an uphill battle, just over a year later both cities are on the track to a brighter future. They did not give up in the face of adversity. Instead the citizens united and looked at the destruction as an opportunity to strategically rebuild their communities better than they were before.

As Vilonia and Mayflower community leaders initiated the rebuilding process, the key to their success was long-term thinking. They recognized that the tornado recovery efforts were not going to be completed in a matter of months and understood there was a need to implement strategic plans that would enact positive change, keep momentum high, and ensure everyone was working toward a common goal.

The first step to effective long-term recovery was to identify anchor organizations across the state that would act as partners, resource guides, and knowledge centers. Vilonia and Mayflower partnered with a variety of groups at the federal and state level to assist them throughout the recovery process. Federal agencies were effective at collecting data, developing reports, providing recommendations, and developing solutions to complex issues, but those agencies only had a short window of time in which they were available to be utilized. Once those agencies completed their assignments, it was up to other organizations such as the University of Central Arkansas’s Center for Community and Economic Development, Central Arkansas Planning and Development District, University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute for Economic Advancement, Metroplan, and the University of Arkansas’s Community Design Center to make that data digestible, help those recommendations come to fruition and assist the communities in developing their action plans.

The rebuilding effort also created an opportunity for local leaders to explore new possibilities for economic development. Leaders in both cities kept an open mind and were extremely receptive to suggestions and knowledge imparted on them by experts in the fields of disaster recovery and community and economic development. As a result of their efforts, several initiatives were completed in the last year, including:

  • A long-range plan for redevelopment, which included community visioning meetings and development of zoning regulations.
  • Funding of a recovery coordinator and support staff for one year. The recovery coordinator took on the role of economic developer for both cities, making the position the first of its kind in either community.
  • A Benchmarking Tour of Arkadelphia, the goals of which were to understand how an Arkansas city responded to a natural disaster that impacted the central business district and hear about long-term economic development efforts that have gained traction in Arkadelphia and Clark County.
  • The first ever Faulkner County Economic Development Boot Camp, held by UCA’s Center for Community and Economic Development. The boot camp included training sessions and plan ning simulations presented by community and economic development professionals from across Arkansas.
  • Vilonia began the development of a brand with the Center and LaGrone Design. The city, which previously had no established brand, recognized the need for one during their recovery efforts. The new brand includes a logo and tagline that will establish a significant and differentiated presence for Vilonia among other communities.

Using all the resources at their disposal, Vilonia and Mayflower started to lay the foundation for their strategic action plans that would lead them into a prosperous future. Once the action plans were developed and adopted, elected officials, community leaders, grassroots organizations (such as the Rebuild Vilonia Committee), and various other community organizations were each assigned a role to play within the execution of the plans.Vilonia and Mayflower have received an estimated $8 million in state and federal grants, with the possibility for more funding in the future.

Over a year has passed since the April 27 tornado and both cities are on the fast track to moving from “tornado recovery” to “economic development” as their mind set.

For more information on preparing your community for resilience, or best practices for economic development following a disaster, contact UCA’s
Center for Community and Economic Development at

Crossett Site Visit

Welcome 2016!

As the new year kicks off and our team settles back into our routines, we are beginning to plan programs, technical assistance projects, and state-wide training events that will fill up 2016. This year will thus far entail community and economic development “Boot Camps” in Magnolia and Bentonville, the continuance of our CDI 2015 Advanced Year work in Heber Springs as we assist the community in creating an action plan, sessions of our new Technical Assistance for Mayors (TAM) program, training for small business owners through the Conway Small Business Institute (CSBI), various presentations across Arkansas and the Mid-South, and our 30th Annual Community Development Institute (CDI). If you are interested in any of the aforementioned programs, please click the links for more information.

Sounds like we have a busy year in store, eh? Well, we’re just getting started!

We want to continue to grow our impact and help as many communities state-wide as possible. To do so, we will continue to explore new opportunities by reaching out to community leaders that believe we can help positively shape the future of their communities. Want to speak with us about what we can offer your community? We encourage you to reach out to us through our Community Technical Assistance Application.

One of the first communities to reach out to us this year was the city of Crossett in southeast Arkansas. Located in Ashley county, Crossett is the largest city in the area with a population of approximately 5,500 residents. The self-proclaimed “The Forestry Capital of the South,” Crossett is also home to Georgia-Pacific, a Fortune 500 company. Crossett is a rural community and, like many other rural communities in Arkansas, contacted us because they were unsure how to take the first steps to move their community forward.

Pam Hipp, Director of the Corssett Chamber of Commerce, is a graduate of CDI and a PCED certification holder. Pam worked closely with our team to identify how we could best assist Crossett achieve community development success. Our first decision was to develop an information gathering session and site visit to help us better understand the ins and outs of the community. Our team made the 2.5 hour trek from Conway to southeast Arkansas to sit face-to-face with a small group of Crossett community leaders: small business owners, industry leaders, representatives from major institutions, and other movers and shakers. The group reviewed a SWOT analysis conducted years prior to our meeting and updated it. Out of the SWOT analysis conversation, our team will create possible “next steps” for Crossett and identify ways we can be of assistance to the community.

As an added bonus, we were treated to a driving tour of Crossett. We explored Crossett’s many amenities (did you know Crossett has a zoo and a library that rivals some of the best in the state?!?), businesses, infrastructure, housing, downtown square, industrial park, and much more. Crossett has many positive aspects and with a little nudge in the right direction we are certain that the community can thrive and become bigger and better than ever before!