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Hempstead County Economic Development Corporation Hosts Organizational Meeting With Community Leaders And Arkansas Economic Development Institute

By Mark Keith, 02/5/19 7:08 PM

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute held a planning meeting for a proposed Hempstead County Strategic Plan. Mayor Steve Montgomery opened the meeting by noting the organization has helped Little River County and DeQueen on long-term strategic planning. The Mayor also asked the media to help get the word out on a possible five year plan in being inclusive.
Jim Youngquist of the AEDI noted a coordinating council would need to be organized consisting of Hempstead County Mayor’s, the County Judge, an Economic Development representative, a Chamber of Commerce representative school district superintendents, a representative from the college as well as representatives from the Hispanic and African-American Community. Youngquist also detailed potential taskforces and what they would address. April Campbell also suggested involving young people as young as high school age.
Campbell went over several steps including information gathering and a community survey. Campbell also said a community meeting or series of meetings would be held to gain community buy-in and attachment. Youngquist and Campbell also explained further organization, monthly meetings, and other development. The timetable would take about 9 months from organization until the plan is unveiled in community meetings. Youngquist also detailed some other examples of communities that have gone through the process such as Pine Bluff.
One of the other AEDI staffers, Carlos SIlva, talked about GIS services and how they helped identify condemned structures within a certain area of downtown Pine Bluff.
Youngquist talked about taskforces and topics such as education and retail leakage.
Dr. Linda Clatk asked about who would be offered the community survey and Campbell noted everyone who wants to. It was pointed out that it should be put online in addition to sharing through traditional media such as newspaper and radio. Campbell suggested it be shared on either the Chamber Website or the EDC website. A Spanish language version could also be offered. Anna Powell noted Watermelon Festival goers have been surveyed about Hempstead Hall and possibly the survey could be distributed at a festival. Youngquist also detailed how West Memphis went into the high school to survey students and find out what students want in order to settle in their hometown. Dr. Linda Clark and Gary Chambless made comments on the importance of hearing the wishes of young people and the various demographic groups. Questions were also asked about health care and flexibility of meetings. Also, Youngquist detailed how Pine Bluff participants were not split upon racial lines but more on age of those younger and older than 40.
Dr.Linda Clark noted there needs to be no hidden agendas but that it should be about “salvaging our hometown”. She noted the African-American Community can often be suspicious of hidden agendas. Campbell noted she was happy the media was present as at least one community that went through the process needed more transparency. Recreation was discussed and Eddie Garcia stressed getting the word out to everyone. Steve Harris asked if the survey could be presented in classrooms and Dr. Clark seemed to think that was a possibility. Dr. Clark said she was excited about the process. She said she feels.like it will give the African-American Community to share their thoughts. Campbell said it is important that after the plan not just sit on a shelf after it is presented.
Potential taskforces were discussed such as health care, education, minority businesses, retail leakage, commercial property costs,and other issues. Dr. Clark also talked about the issues of white flight and the lack of trust. Dr. Clark also said some healing needs to occur. Steve Harris also discussed workforce training. Quality of life was mentioned. Harris also noted the problem of some who live in Texarkana but work here and the effect of the border tax exemption. Harris said there is some opportunity for young people here. Anna Powell noted the carrion’s school options as well as the private school Christian education available. Powell also talked about the importance of arts in our county. Campbell also talked about tourism as a task force. Beckie Moore asked about how quality of life would be viewed. Tourism and regional attractions were discussed as was downtown development. Infrastructure was also discussed. Affordable middle income housing was discussed.
Eddie Garcia asked how people can be motivated to participate in the process. It was proposed by a AEDI staffer that the survey will be a motivator. Also it was noted in the monthly meetings the task forces will report at the beginning of the meetings. Campbell also suggested that the participants in the meeting will get people excited about the process.
The calendar for the process was discussed such as having the community survey out for about three weeks and the scheduling of the community meeting. The age of the students surveyed were discussed as well as having the community meeting where everyone including the African-American Community would be comfortable.
It was agreed Anna Powell will try to get Hempstead Hall for the public meeting the week of March 11th. April Campbell stressed the process can be controlled by the community and is not subject to rigid structure by AEDI. The meeting then adjourned.