Pilot economic development plan includes 2 local counties

A pilot program focusing on economic development in six rural Arkansas counties has moved to its second phase–interviewing business owners involved in retail, entertainment, accommodations and tourism. Membership in the program includes two local counties.Create Bridges is a multi-state pilot to help communities strengthen the retail, tourism, hospitality and entertainment sectors, which provide jobs and business opportunities frequently boosting rural economies.In Arkansas, the efforts are organized by the Research and Extension’s Community and Economic Development section, part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Create Bridges was established in October 2018 in the Ozark Foothills Region of Fulton, Izard and Sharp counties and the 3Cs Region of Howard, Little River and Sevier counties.

Earlier this year, Create Bridges held a series of forums in several counties throughout the state to gather information about community assets in the retail, tourism, entertainment and accommodations industries.

Now organizers hope to build on that foundation through local interviews. The interviews will focus on the benefits, challenges, and opportunities of operating a business in rural Arkansas. Although some of the businesses have already been identified, Create Bridges project leaders welcome other business owners in the six member counties to join the effort.

Julianne Dunn, economic development instructor for the Division of Agriculture, encourages area business owners to participate in the program.

Dunn says, “If you are a business owner in these four sectors, feel free to reach out to schedule an interview that will be held in your business.”

Results of these confidential interviews will be used to develop regional economic development strategies that will be implemented next year.

Dunn says, “Connecting with our existing businesses demonstrates the importance of these businesses to our communities and allows us to create long-term, achievable plans that will help grow our rural economies.”

Retaining and expanding businesses involves connecting with a community’s existing businesses through individual interviews or small group roundtables to understand and respond to their needs. The interviews focus on workforce, community engagement, customer base, and potential expansion plans.

Create Bridges, which is actually an acronym for “Celebrating Retail, Accommodations, Tourism, and Entertainment by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies,” has already held community forums and a retail academy for regional leaders. Next steps include an employee engagement survey and an emphasis on identifying opportunities for workforce training for the incumbent workforce.

To learn more about Create Bridges, visit www.uaex.edu/createbridges University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service or contact Dunn at jbdunn@uaex.edu.

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