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Taking the pulse of the people: Developing a community survey

The following post originally appeared as an article in the March 2021 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

The start of a new community initiative can feel monumental. Our team at the University of
Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED) recommends
the first step in any community-wide planning be the distribution of a community survey. Conducting a community survey engages citizens and provides direction.

A successful survey captures feedback from a diverse population and provides a healthy sample of data. Reaching this goal involves teamwork, creative marketing and data analysis. After conducting surveys in several communities across the state, our team suggests you consider these steps when developing your survey.

Develop a leadership team
Input from a diverse leadership team ensures the content and distribution of the survey encompasses your whole community. Involving voices from across your community will also assist in more accurate data collection.

The leadership team was a vital component when the city of Lonoke launched the Kick Start Lonoke Action Plan in 2016. Ryan Biles, co-chair of the Kick Start Lonoke Executive Committee, emphasized the importance of an inclusive steering committee.

“When you successfully build a steering committee where diverse voices are heard, then you have a core group that will help you define the important questions and priorities of your work together moving forward,” Biles said.

The leadership team will help engage as many community members as possible. Every citizen’s interests are addressed when a spectrum of individuals is part of the planning process.

Develop the content
A few factors influence the content of your survey. First, determine the survey’s geographic focus: city- or county-wide. The reach of the community survey depends on your community’s specific needs and the data you want to collect. This will be different for every community depending on your goals for the survey.

When CCED worked with Hot Spring County to conduct a community survey, the leadership team decided to focus their planning efforts county-wide.

County Judge Dennis Thornton explained why they made that decision. “Hot Spring County is made up of so many wonderful communities, and I wanted to give them the opportunity to express what their specific needs were, knowing that not all communities would share the same needs,” he said. “For example, Bismarck expressed a need for incorporation, while Malvern desired a civic center.”

After you define the geographic scope of your survey, consider the questions to pose to the community. Questions can be serious or lighthearted in tone, open-ended or multiple choice. They can be general or focus on a specific project.

Demographic information is essential, so consider including questions regarding race, gender, age, employment and geographic location. This data provides an even deeper understanding of your community, thus ensuring every citizen’s needs are addressed.

We suggest including questions where citizens can share their top community and economic development opportunities (education, job creation, health care, education, downtown development, tourism, etc.). We also suggest including an open-ended question that offers space for citizens to share their unique ideas and opinions.

One question our team likes to include in every survey is: “Which words describe the personality of your community?” Survey takers select from a list that includes adjectives such as “high tech,” “scenic” and “small town.” We find that this question offers a peek into how your citizens perceive your community and how they communicate about it to outsiders.

Finally, always include a call to action on the survey. Give citizens the opportunity for involvement in the new community initiative or planning process. At the end of the survey, develop an optional section to collect basic contact information to cultivate citizen interest. You can refer to these self-identified citizen volunteers when you begin your community work.

Collect responses
Collecting responses for a community survey involves creative marketing ideas. The goal is to collect as many responses as possible, as well as to engage a variety of citizens. The survey should be visible and easily accessible to the public.

The city of Lonoke is a great example of clever survey marketing. In 2016, they included a paper copy of their community survey in the city’s water bills. They found this tactic to be so effective that water bills are now a major piece of communication in the implementation of the Lonoke 2022 Strategic Action Plan.

“If we truly want participation, we have to employ an approach that is as diverse as our population,” Biles said.

Social media is also a popular medium of communication. Mat Faulkner of Think Idea Studio led the marketing for Searcy’s community survey in 2020. Faulkner suggests utilizing video for social media marketing. “The video format informs and engages
better than text and stagnant graphics,” he shared. “So be excited, use people in videos that the community will recognize and have a lot of fun with it.”

We find that word of mouth is the most effective form of communication. Challenge your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors to spread the word about your community survey. Share the online survey link or paper copy at your local businesses, restaurants, schools, churches, nonprofit agencies and community events.

Analyze the data
Completing your survey is only step one in a big process. At your survey’s conclusion, you are left with a gold mine of data. Find someone who can analyze that data effectively and identify trends. Use the information to make informed decisions to move forward in your planning process. Compile the data into a digestible format, like easy-to-read charts, to share back with your community.

A community survey can be a tool for widespread citizen engagement and can provide direction for new projects. By focusing on building an inclusive leadership team, quality content, inventive marketing techniques and in-depth data analysis, you will capture a rich sampling of perspectives.

If you need assistance in developing a community survey, you can email the University of Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development at
cced@uca.edu or call 501-450-5269.

By Emily Cooper Yates

Art and Community-Building: Inspiration from Art House in Jonesboro, AR

While some people may think of art as a solitary, inwardly reflective activity, this could not be further from the truth. Public art projects like murals and other installations can create lots of visual interest in communities and encourage residents and visitors to engage with a city’s physical space. Community events based around art, such as gallery exhibitions and music festivals, can help cities brand themselves as fun and engaging places to live. There are lots of inventive ways to utilize art in community-building. Here is one that may generate some inspiration.

In June of 2019, nurse practitioner Angie Jones opened Art House in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Art House is an art gallery and event space located in Jonesboro’s downtown area. Art House allows local artists (both professional and hobbyist) to display their art for purchase and collects a small fee for display if the art is sold. This business model makes Art House unique as a community-building tool, because it isn’t often that art galleries make an effort to be so inclusive about what is displayed. Art House encourages participation in arts-based activities because it allows every member of the community that has a passion for art to display their creations.

Art House hosts art shows every month, and its come-one-come-all approach to exhibition seems to be bringing community members together; Art House’s “Event Gallery” page on their website features smiling Jonesboro citizens perusing the gallery space in groups and posing with art they have created or purchased. 

Beyond exhibiting local art, Art House hosts classes regularly, teaching community members a variety of artistic mediums. The gallery has even taken its work outside of its physical space, spearheading the creation of a “selfie wall.” Art House helped recruit five local artists to create a collection of small murals in downtown Jonesboro. Perhaps more impressively, this project was completed in August of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it helped encourage citizens to interact with the downtown space on social media by taking pictures of themselves posing in front of the murals. 

Art House represents only one model of using art as a community-building tool. Luckily, there are endless possibilities for communities to take advantage of the way art brings people together. How can your community incorporate art into its social fabric?

By Greta Hacker

Conference Opportunity: Rise Up Weekend (FREE Registration!)

Did you know that the 2020 election marked record highs in youth voter turnout? An estimated 55% of youth aged 18-29 voted in the 2020 election, which marks an increase of 9% over 2016 voting records. On the heels of this historic achievement, the youth civic engagement nonprofit Andrew Goodman Foundation will host their virtual National Civic Leadership Training Summit: Rise Up Weekend. Held on June 25, 2021, this event celebrates and encourages the power of youth voting and civic participation. It provides opportunities for youth, community leaders, policymakers, and voting rights advocates to learn about protecting and enhancing youth voting.

Though the increase in youth turnout was promising, many pieces of legislation aimed to decrease ease of access to voting have emerged in the wake of these advancements. More than 350 bills aimed at making voter ID laws stricter, limiting mail-in and early voting, and complicating the voter registration process have sprang up around the country as of April 2021.

Rise Up Weekend focuses on empowering young people to maintain their voices in public discourse and stand against voter suppression. The event features panel discussions and keynote addresses from elected officials, nonprofit leaders, and celebrated civil rights advocates. Any community official interested in nurturing the civic participation of young people in their area would find resources and inspiration in this training event.

To find out more information about Rise Up Weekend and to register for the event, click here.

Registration is free.

By Greta Hacker

Moving the needle on equity

The following post originally appeared as an article in the January 2021 issue of Arkansas Municipal League’s publication City and Town. Click here to learn more.

2020 has been a year for the history books. Not only have we been contending with the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black individuals which sparked protests that have highlighted the importance of addressing the issues of race and inequality. To develop a better future for our citizens, children, grandchildren and beyond, we must recognize the importance of promoting and creating equity in our communities.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation defines equity as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial and fair” and shares that to be achieved and sustained, equity needs to be thought of as a structural and systemic concept.

As we thought about equity and social justice, our team at the University of Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development asked ourselves how we could leverage our resources and skills to be more intentional in our work. Knowing our strength lies in convening and training, we launched the inaugural Arkansas Racial Equity Summit on October 8, 2020. With support from our partners at ARcare, the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, more than 200 Arkansas leaders came together to learn about the history of racial injustice in Arkansas, information on what inequities exist today (in health, education, wealth/income and the criminal justice system), and participated in an interactive discussion on what we can do to counteract those inequities to create a better future.

The Summit covered a plethora of resources available to leaders about equity and social justice, but here are five tangible first steps you can consider to promote and create equity in your community or organization:

1. Celebrate the National Day of Racial Healing:
In 1995, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation established the National Day of Racial Healing as part of its Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) process, which was a restructuring of its funding priorities to promote healing as a critical path for ending racial bias and creating a society in which all children can thrive. In January 2020, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson became the first governor to issue a gubernatorial proclamation in observance of the National Day of Racial Healing. One of the goals for the 2021 observance is for Arkansas to become the first state where all of its mayors, county judges and school superintendents issue proclamations, along with Governor Hutchinson. You can view a sample proclamation in this issue on page 15.

2. Take the Harvard implicit bias test:
The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you didn’t know about. Taking the test is a good way of becoming more aware of implicit biases that may be playing a role in your community or your life. You can take the test at implicit.harvard.edu/implicit.

3. Utilize the Equity Assistance Center:
The Equity Assistance Center (EAC) in the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education has the responsibility of assisting and assuring that all school districts comply with state and federal regulations that prohibit discrimination. The EAC also offers resources to promote and develop equity in our schools. Learn more at dese.ade.arkansas.gov/divisions/legal/equity-assistance.

4. Review and implement the Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide from the Annie E. Casey Foundation:
The seven steps outlined in the Action Guide represent a set of tools that can be utilized to incorporate race equity and inclusion. As shared in the guide, “Following these steps will help ensure that strategies to help children, families and communities are informed from the beginning by the knowledge and data on race that we know are critical to achieving results for a whole population.” You can view the guide at www.aecf.org/resources/race-equity-and-inclusion-action-guide.

5. Review and implement the Municipal Action Guide on Racial Equity from the National League of Cities (NLC):
The NLC’s Race, Equity and Leadership (REAL) initiative compiled six steps municipal leaders can follow to begin improving equity throughout your city and creating better outcomes for everyone in your community. You can read the guide at www.nlc.org/wp-content/ uploads/2017/10/NLC-MAG-on-Racial-Equity.pdf.

These are just a few ways you can begin to move the needle on racial equity in your community. If you are interested in learning more, all resources from the Summit can be found at www.uca.edu/cced/arkansasracial-equity-summit. As CCED continues to develop training and programming centered on equity, please reach out to our team if you want more information at sfiegel@uca.edu or 501-450-5269.

By Shelby Fiegel

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 endeavor, 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 mististaley@gmail.com. For more information about the Thrive Center, visit thrivecenter.org.

By Emily Cooper Yates

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 https://delta-phi.org/ or email deltaphi@nyit.org 

By Emily Cooper Yates

UCA Citizens Academy promotes local engagement

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

In the fall of 2019, the University of Central Arkansas Division of Outreach and Community Engagement, in partnership with the UCA Political Science Department, launched the first-ever UCA Citizens Academy. During this program, UCA students and Conway residents embark on a 13-week program aimed at emphasizing civic engagement at the local and regional level.

Many cities around Arkansas, such as Jacksonville, Bella Vista and Mountain Home, conduct their own citizen academies. However, these academies focus primarily on law enforcement. The UCA Citizens Academy is unique in the way its curriculum is designed to cover a variety of topics ranging from the local judiciary system to the Conway Sanitation Department. The focus of the course is to “bring residents together to become more informed about local and regional government, the entities and institutions of which its composed and their activities, and with the idea that with a greater understanding of local government and activities, they will be more disposed to participating and engaging with it.” The topics covered in the academy include those in the public and nonprofit sectors, such as finance, economic development, transportation, safety, ecology and sanitation, and human services.

Clay Arnold, chair of the Political Science Department at UCA, designed and led the class as a part of a campus-wide initiative to promote civic engagement and citizen participation within UCA’s student body. The university partnered with Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities that aims to promote civic participation and community development within institutions of higher education. In addition to being offered to UCA students, the program is open to Conway residents so they would be able to learn more
about their local government and services. Participants in the program interacted with local officials from regional government and nonprofit agencies in a series of classes once a week for two hours. The presenters ranged from elected leaders, such as Faulkner County Judge Jim Baker, to Daniel Tyler, the founder of Deliver Hope, a local nonprofit.

After the completion of the program, participants are tasked with creating a civic engagement plan to help local agencies provide services more efficiently and create a better community. Another goal of the program is the development of a civic action plan library that could be made available to any civic group looking to perform a project to benefit their community. Arnold believes that the community civic engagement plans may inspire other communities, whether in partnership with institutions of higher education or not, to develop their own citizen academies.

In helping plan and create this program, Conway City Council Member Shelley Mehl, who is the former associate vice president of UCA Outreach, believes the academy is “an opportunity for UCA to reach out, educate and engage the community,” adding “this program is a way to bring all parties together in a constructive way that we hope would improve communication and support the development of engaged citizens.” It is courses like the academy that Mehl believes are “the start of moving our community forward.”

Participants in the class felt the program allowed them to engage with local leaders in discussions that permitted them to ask more in-depth questions to more fully assess the needs within the community.

Booker White, a junior at UCA from Mayflower, said, “The class was very informative about the ways both state and local government and nonprofits work together and independently to serve the public. The civic engagement plan inspired me to look more closely at the needs of the community and come up with possible solutions or alternatives that will allow me to help work in a hands-on way to develop a better community.”

You can learn more about the UCA Citizens Academy at www.uca.edu/outreach/citizens.

By Javier Hernandez

Smart tech helps cities plan for the future

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

The use of smart city technology is an emerging trend that will help Arkansas cities and towns remain competitive through the 21st century. Intelligent city infrastructure has the potential to elevate the economic resiliency and sustainability of communities in the state. How can your community utilize the new benefits of big data to hone a more informed and responsive system that connects citizens and optimizes resources?

What is smart city technology?
Smart technologies embody a variety of products and services that are designed to perform efficiently, quickly and conveniently. Modern consumers expect businesses to keep up with technological trends. This market pressure is evident in the plethora of items that have been transformed and labeled as “smart” since the turn of the century—cell phones, tablets, watches, air-conditioning units and refrigerators to name a few. With such a drive toward automation in society, it should come as no surprise that urban planners are experimenting with the idea of smart cities. By utilizing electronic and digital devices with existing municipal infrastructure, cities may gather large amounts of data that show how people and machines interact across a multitude of locations.

Is smart city technology right for Arkansas?
The implementation of smart technology in municipalities is a difficult and expensive undertaking. Cities must purchase and obtain software necessary for collecting large sets of data as well as position and maintain sensors in targeted locations. Then, city officials must consult analysts who will help determine data trends that lead to significant improvements in the overall welfare of the community. Metropolitan clusters of finance, infrastructure and labor are well-equipped for the task; urban areas in Arkansas will likely become pioneers in the shift toward smart city technology. Nevertheless, as smart technology becomes more commonplace and inexpensive, smaller rural communities in the state will be able to follow suit.

Smart city technology’s applications and benefits
With numerous applications, there are vast benefits from harnessing smart city technology. The data collected from its use will help optimize efficiency and communication across civic resources and services. For example, the town of South Bend, Indiana, implemented
smart sewer systems that gauge water flow to prevent floods. Furthermore, the collection of this data can alter the way that citizens navigate their everyday lives.

Traffic sensors installed on roadways monitor driving patterns and adjust signals to make travel more efficient. In 2019, Conway began using adaptive traffic signals on two of its busiest streets: Dave Ward Drive and Oak Street. Motorists now enjoy shortened daily commutes through town.

Fort Smith and West Memphis are in the process of implementing smart city pilot programs. Fort Smith aims to improve its municipal solid waste, recycling and yard waste practices. City officials hope that this program will help them make more effective and knowledgeable decisions about waste management and sustainability. These are just a few examples of the many
practical uses for smart city technology that will have a tremendous impact on resource management and quality of life for Arkansans.

The 2020s offer far-reaching potential to utilize technology in support of community and economic development in Arkansas. Therefore, it is vital that city and town leaders planning for the future recognize and give serious consideration to the smart city model.

By Will Gloster

Apprenticeships: A tried and true concept reemerges

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

Apprenticeships are making a comeback. These somewhat informal programs used to be the primary method of learning a technical or vocational skill but fell out of favor to more formal paths of education. As college tuition prices continue to climb, apprenticeships have been gaining in popularity as an alternative to college or technical school by allowing individuals to learn valuable skills, gain real-world experience and earn money at the same time.

I spoke with Patty Methvin, workforce administrator for the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District, to learn more about apprenticeship programs in that region of the state. “Programs like these are not new,” she said. “We’re bringing back an old model that wasn’t broken.” Methvin shared some insights into the types of people who enter apprenticeship programs and what these programs look like in practice.

There are many different paths to becoming an apprentice and there is no “average person” that enters an apprenticeship program. Some individuals may be coming directly out of high school and looking to establish a career for the first time. Others may be currently employed but have a desire to upskill or change their careers. Some may be dislocated workers looking to start their careers in a new field. Whichever way someone seeks out a program like this, they are likely to find an apprenticeship that fits their needs.

Apprenticeship programs can vary in structure based on the needs of the industry and the company. Apprentices may work part time or full time while receiving training for their role both on the job and outside of their working hours. While the structure of the program may vary, the end result of the program is the same, and potential apprentices should seek a program that best fits their needs.

As apprenticeship programs take hold in Arkansas, here are a few tips to ensure that an apprenticeship program is effective at attracting talent and impacting your community.

Educate your business partners
For potential apprentices, programs that enable them to receive training for a new career while still earning money during the process are a win-win. For businesses, this may be a slightly harder sell, but there are some real advantages to using this model for recruiting new employees. Programs like these allow businesses to employ individuals who are willing to educate themselves for a long-term career in their field and are able to take advantage of the approved outside partners providing valuable training outside of their normal work. This relationship-building through the apprenticeship program allows employers the unique opportunity to train an employee from scratch to ensure that the needs of the employer are wholly met. It’s also important for both the apprentice and the employer to understand that during an apprenticeship program, the apprentice is still considered an employee and they are held to the same standards as traditional employees.

Utilize your business environment to design your program
Apprenticeship programs are driven by the needs of employers in your area. When designing these programs, be mindful of the business environment and include them in the process to ensure their needs are being met. It’s also important to apply the apprenticeship model to new fields. Apprenticeships have historically been focused on traditional technical fields such as plumbing or welding, but new programs are starting to focus on emerging fields like information technology. Exploring these new fields expands the employment potential of future apprentices.

Seek opportunities to be inclusive
Apprenticeship programs offer a unique opportunity to include those in the workforce who may have been left out previously. Apprenticeships can be a powerful tool to remove barriers to employment, including dislocation or the special needs of an individual. One example is a program currently being implemented at a Fayetteville bakery that teaches individuals on the autism spectrum
the basics of food service. The Rockin’ Baker Academy program at the Rockin’ Baker teaches transferable skills in the culinary industry and addresses a need for an underserved community.

Apprenticeship programs are an effective use of time for both the apprentice and the employer. Having a trained workforce is a vital part of the human infrastructure that makes a community attractive to prospective businesses. Laying the groundwork through apprenticeship programs shows that your community is ready for the future by training the next generation of the Arkansas workforce.

Written by Dylan Edgell.

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.”