City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article April 2023

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

Moving the Needle on Childcare 

By Abayi Ibro Ayouba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article March 2023

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

Buy-in Builds Vibrant Community Events

By Michael Hudson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But how do you inspire volunteers to get involved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article February 2023

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

EngageAR Partners on Pantries for MLK Jr. Day of Service 

By Shelby Fiegel


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

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

• Engage with their community and create constructive action;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can learn more about the Little Free Pantry Movement at

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article January 2023

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

The Virtuous Cycle of Adaptive Reuse 

By Greta Hacker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article December 2022

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

LeadAR: Strengthing Arkansas communities since 1984 

By guest writer, Dr. Julie Robinson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article November 2022

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

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

By Michael Hudson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article October 2022

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

Preparing a workforce for the future: ACT Work Ready Communities 

By Shelby Fiegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article September 2022

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

Identifying Your Community’s Moon Mission 

By Dylan Edgell


The University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED) hosted the 36th Annual Community Development Institute (CDI) August 1-5 in Conway. Each year, community developers, elected officials and community leaders make the trip to UCA’s campus for a week of immersive training covering a wide range of topics related to community and economic development. CDI is a three-year training program consisting of one week of training per year. Graduates of CDI qualify to take the Professional Community and Economic Developer (PCED) exam for certification. 

One of the special events during the week of CDI is the keynote presentation, which was delivered by John Carroll, the executive director of City Leadership, an organization that seeks to change the lives of Memphis, Tennessee, residents through building and developing leaders. City Leadership is the organization behind the Choose901, Teach901, Serve901 and Give901 campaigns that work to recruit talented individuals, develop leaders and organizations, and catalyze collaborative projects for the benefit of the city of Memphis. 

Since starting these initiatives, City Leadership has provided leadership development assistance to 2,515 Memphians. Carroll shared this progressive spirit in his keynote address, emphasizing that everyone has the power to create broad and bold visions for the future of their communities. 

Carroll referenced the United States government’s persistent efforts to win the Space Race in the 1960s. He urged CDI 2022 participants to identify their own “moon mission” in their community. Carroll noted that the time between President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing the moon mission on May 25, 1961, and Americans landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, was 2,979 days. When it was announced, the decision to go to the moon within a decade may have felt too ambitious, too big and too broad to be accomplished. It would require engineers learning and creating new technologies and experiencing multiple failures along the way. But accomplishing big and bold things requires big and bold thinking. 

Carroll challenged CDI participants to look forward 2,979 days into the future and imagine what their community will look like on September 29, 2030. He Photo by Dylan Edgell Using the famous photo astronaut Buzz Aldrin shot of his footprint on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, John Carroll encouraged CDI 2022 participants to collaborate and create bold “moon missions” in their communities. September 2022 39 encouraged them to bring the energy and long-term vision required for the original moon mission into their work as community leaders. 

This prompt raises important questions for the future of our communities as we move further into the 21st century. What plans do we need to make to build stronger communities, who do we need to bring to the table, and how will we engage and uplift the next generation of leaders? 

Lonoke Mayor Trae Reed, a CDI 2022 participant, said he appreciated the future-focused keynote message, and he highlighted Carroll’s emphasis on collaborative decision-making. “No one person can effect change by themselves,” he said. “We all know it takes a village, which is why everyone in a position of influence needs a strong and reliable network.” 

Finding a moon mission in your community is a great way to spark interest, energy and action around community and economic development initiatives. Not everyone in your community has this long-term vision so it’s important that local leaders take the time to collaboratively create and set the vision, express what the future could look like and bring others into the fold to make it happen. 

To learn more about John Carroll and City Leadership, visit CDI 2023 will be held July 31-August 4, 2023, at UCA. If you are interested in learning more about the Community Development Institute, visit

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article August 2022

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

Balancing big dreams with hard work: Lessons from Greenbrier 

By Greta Hacker


The city of Greenbrier in many ways exemplifies both the joys and troubles of small-town living in Arkansas. It has a top-rated school system and its citizens form a close-knit, family friendly community. However, like many rural communities, it has struggled over the years with its transportation infrastructure and a lack of a downtown area. These challenges have only become more apparent as Greenbrier’s population has grown. 

Over the last five years, Greenbrier has demonstrated that it is up to the task of capitalizing on its assets and areas for improvement. The city has made great strides in economic and community development, and recent wins have made big impacts. Its recent progress serves as a good example of how any city can take steps to improve the quality of life in their communities. 

Greenbrier’s recent community development efforts began when they implemented recommendations from a First Impressions Tour (FIT) conducted in 2017 in partnership with the University of Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development. Through the FIT, Greenbrier leaders received a broad assessment of the city’s strengths and weaknesses. Some of the suggestions for improvement that emerged from this report included the development of sidewalks, improving recreation facilities, increasing wayfinding signage and engaging in beautification efforts. 

Greenbrier city officials went right to work on implementing these recommendations in the following years. Greenbrier Events Center Director Shellie O’Quinn noted that throughout the community development process, Greenbrier succeeded because they tempered idealism with realism. “One thing I love about our current leadership is that they seize opportunities when they arise,” she said. “They dream big but back it up with realistic expectations. The amazing facilities that we enjoy in our community today are a direct result of hard work and dedication to those big dreams.”

These big dreams include several large improvement projects, including 55-acre Matthews Park, a new fire station, a new city building that houses Greenbrier’s parks and recreation department and chamber of commerce, and a 4,000 square-foot events center. In 2018 residents passed a sales tax increase that funded the construction of the city park and fire station. The projects wrapped in 2020 and 2021, respectively. 

The creation of Matthews Park addressed an important need in the community by functioning as a central gathering place, said Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce President Ashton Pruitt. “Greenbrier does not have a traditional downtown with a lively entertainment Public input helped guide city leaders when choosing the park’s amenities. Greenbrier doesn’t have a traditional city center, and Matthews Park, completed in 2020, helps make up for that by giving residents a place to gather. Photos courtesy city of Greenbrier August 2022 35 district. Matthews Park allowed us to have a special central location for recreation, celebrations and events. It really brought the community together.” The park has served as the location for several large community events, including an art festival and Glisten in Greenbrier, a month-long holiday celebration featuring a tree-lighting ceremony, skating rink and light display. 

Gaining community buy-in was a key ingredient in Greenbrier’s success throughout the process of developing Matthews Park. “It was important to us to ask the people what they would want in a park,” said Greenbrier Mayor Sammy Joe Hartwick. “We visited groups including senior citizens and school groups to get their feedback, and we included Greenbrier citizens on our city park board.” 

O’Quinn also emphasized the importance of partnerships in Greenbrier’s achievements. “The city of Greenbrier works very closely with the Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce and the Greenbrier School District,” she said. “Most of the progress in the community can be attributed to the collaboration between these amazing institutions. They share many resources that help ease the growing pains of our community.” 

One of Greenbrier’s current projects includes improving its streets and sidewalks. Mayor Hartwick noted that the city was proud to partner with the Arkansas Department of Transportation in widening its intersections and installing turning lanes and turning arrows in high-traffic areas. Hartwick also highlighted a sidewalk project connecting Highway 65 to Greenbrier High School. 

Finally, Greenbrier is taking steps to plan for future growth by conducting a community survey. City officials will eventually use this citizen input to guide the development of a citywide strategic plan. 

“Our citizens have been given a great opportunity to share their dreams and participate in the process of creating a unified vision as well as working to make it come to fruition,” O’Quinn said. “Having the buy-in of our community will be essential to realizing the ultimate ‘big dream’ of shaping a future Greenbrier that is even bigger and better than any of us individually could ever imagine.”

City & Town – Arkansas Municipal League Article July 2022

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

Hello from Magnolia! 

How Magnolia is using their new brand to keep them top-of-mind

By Michael Hudson


As you travel throughout the Natural State this summer, take in the personality and identity of the cities and towns you pass through. Each community in our state is unique and has diverse assets that contribute to making it a great place to live, work and play. When considering how to best display everything our communities have to offer, one of the greatest tools we can utilize is the development of a community brand. Identifying and marketing a community brand sends a cohesive message on behalf of your community, engages visitors and generates community pride. Community brands also establish a positive first impression for potential new businesses, residents and tourists in the digital world. 

Magnolia city leaders saw the need to create a community brand to promote the city to external audiences and develop a sense of identity internally. The city partnered with the University of Central Arkansas’ Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED), Thrive Inc. and Entergy Arkansas to create a new community brand and logo. 

Magnolia’s Economic Development Executive Director Ellie Baker recognized that “those who wanted to connect a business or item to Magnolia would have to use any one of the thousands of [magnolia] blossom images from the internet. There was no consistency of an image being used across the board to purposefully identify Magnolia.” With the new logo and branding, Magnolia portrays a sense of unity and belonging within the community using cohesive branding materials, which are free and available for anyone to use. 

Creating the brand 

It is impossible for any city or town to be able to market itself to the world as a place to come work, live and play without knowing who they are first, said Ryan Biles, Thrive Inc.’s director of development. When creating a community brand, the first step is “to know what you believe about yourself before you can tell that story to others.” 

In Magnolia’s case, community stakeholders met with Thrive to develop an idea of who Magnolia is. To undertake a major project like rebranding your town, it is imperative that “every community have at its heart people who are proud to be from there,” Biles said. The stakeholders then formed a design team that met with Thrive, CCED and Entergy every two weeks via Zoom to ensure that the project did not lose its momentum. During those meetings, Thrive conducted workshops that extracted the “emotional essence” of what each participant brings to the table. By understanding how the stakeholders feel about their community, Thrive was better able to distill what made Magnolia unique and important through the eyes of its own citizens.

Once the brand was developed, Magnolia and Thrive strategically involved high school students in the unveiling of the new brand. The students painted a mural in the city’s Square Park that displays key elements of the brand. This process also gave the students real-world experience as artists. Mayor Parnell Vann was ecstatic that Magnolia youth were so involved in the creation of the brand. “This project brought pride and buy-in from our youth, and anytime you can do that with a city project it is a success,” he said. 

Getting the brand out there 

Magnolia is incorporating the new brand into city departments and encourages citizens to use the new branding for free. Businesses are also encouraged to use the new branding and can contact city hall for the marketing materials. The city will continue to implement its new branding with wayfinding signage, future projects and a new movable mural to be displayed, according to Baker, “wherever there is an empty spot to fill.”

Every community can learn from Magnolia’s branding process. Some key tips include: 

  • Before your community begins to design and develop a new branding initiative, study your town to understand who you are and what your story is. 
  • Gather as many perspectives as you can so that everyone has a voice in the process. 
  • Create a consensus on what should be included with the brand and take pride in it! 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask outside organizations or companies to help with this endeavor.

Even though there are other communities with the name of Magnolia in the United States, the new Magnolia, Arkansas, logo is truly one of a kind and cannot be found anywhere else. So, the next time you visit Magnolia, be prepared to be welcomed with a smile, and snap a photo with the new mural to say, “Hello from Magnolia!”