Kick Start Sheridan: Action Plan Unveiling

On May 7, 2019 Governor Asa Hutchinson, UCA President Houston Davis, and over 100 Sheridan, Grant County, #YJNation (Sheridan School District), and state community members and leaders came together at Oak Hill Farms to celebrate the unveiling of the Kick Start Sheridan Action Plan!

The Kick Start Sheridan Action Plan is the culmination of nine months of citizen input and planning to develop community and economic development goals based on the following areas: Downtown Development, Recreation and Things To Do, Education and Economic Development, Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship, and Infrastructure.

Sheridan’s journey began by partnering with the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) Center for Community and Economic Development (CCED) staff, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension’s (UAEX) Dr. Mark Peterson, and Chaffee Crossing’s Lorie Robertson during the Community Development Institute (CDI) 2018 Advanced Year class. During CDI 2018, a group of professional community and economic professionals and CDI graduates assessed the city. Through their work, the city was provided with a report that became the foundation for their community wide strategic action planning effort.

Then UCA CCED and UAEX assisted Sheridan for nearly a year by holding community forums, constructing a core leadership group, and guiding the community through the Kick Start planning process. The end result of the Kick Start Sheridan initiative was the development of the strategic action plan.

You can read the plan here:


You can watch the unveiling of the Kick Start Sheridan plan here:

View photos of the event here.

Our team at UCA CCED would like to give special thanks to our supporters, partners, and UCA leadership who make this work possible every day: President Houston Davis, Chief of Staff Kelley Erstine, Associate Vice President for Outreach and Community Engagement Dr. Shaneil Ealy, Dr. Mark Peterson at University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension, Lorie Robertson at Chaffee Crossing, the CDI 2018 Advanced Year Class, and leaders of Kick Start Sheridan Mayor Joe Wise, Carrie Wise Smith, Brad McGinley, and Lauren Goins.

During CDI 2019, UCA CCED plans to work with Camden, Arkansas in southwest Arkansas.

Kick Start Alma September Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring Searcy County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their presentation covered the following:


What is Kick Start Lonoke?

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

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

What Has Made Kick Start Lonoke Successful?

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

Things to Consider Before Starting Your Own Community Planning Process

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


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

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

Booneville Strategic Planning Session

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

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

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

UCA Students Create Commercial for Local Community

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

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

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

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

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

To view the commercial visit

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

Marketing Sites and Buildings in Your City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Empower Your Small Town

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

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

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

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


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.”

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.