October 4, 2017 Edition

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Dr. Neal Vickers (standing), director of the Trumann Chamber of Commerce, records ideas compiled by the participants at one of the tables at Wednesday's Civic Forum hosted by the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition. Participants at the table included (clockwise, from left): Coby Wilson, field representative for U.S. Sen. John Boozman; Brookland Mayor Kenneth Jones; community representatives, Daniel Hutchison with Paragould Light Water Cable and Tonya Tucker with Clay County Electric Cooperative; Noah Washburn, LeadAR Program Director with the University of Arkansas Extension Service; and Debbie DeRossitte, Craighead County Extension Agent.

NEA Economic Development
Coalition makes plans

The Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition, which consists of Craighead, Greene, Clay, Lawrence, Randolph and Poinsett counties, hosted a Civic Forum on Wednesday at the Paragould Community Center.

Lesa Walter, Lawrence County Chamber director, and Gretchen Hunt, Chamber board chair, were among those in attendance, as well as Lawrence County Extension Agent Herb Ginn.

The forum, which is the first step in creating an economic development blueprint for the region, was held as part of the Stronger Economies Together program, which is being facilitated by the University of Arkansas Extension Service and USDA Rural Development.

The NEA Coalition was one of two regional organizations in the state that were approved for the program this year.

"Stronger Economies Together, or SET, is designed to help communities and counties work together as a region to identify and implement asset-based strategies to create jobs," Stacey McCullough, assistant director of community and economic development with the University of Arkansas Extension Service, said.

Wednesday's civic forum provided an opportunity for people from the six counties represented in the NEA Coalition to explore the region's strengths, challenges and potential opportunities for economic development.

State Sen. Blake Johnson, whose district includes five of the six counties in the coalition, said regional economic development is key, noting that he was on the steering committee in Clay and Greene counties that led to the formation of the NEA Coalition.

"I feel like regional cooperation is essential for our future economic development efforts and success," Johnson said. "We are no longer competing with our neighboring towns for job creation; we are in competition with large metropolitan areas, states and other nations. Together we stand, and divided we fall."

Elected officials, Chamber of Commerce representatives, economic development specialists, community leaders and representatives of several agencies from throughout the region gathered on Wednesday.

A strong theme throughout the day was the need to connect potential workers with available training opportunities to increase the number of qualified candidates for existing and prospective industries and businesses in the region.

McCullough said she received positive feedback following Wednesday's meeting, including the following comments:

"This event provided a networking opportunity and good information and insight into the region."

"All of the items discussed are correctable in some way, and we must work together to address them."

"There is much work to do. We need every community and county to be successful for our region to thrive."

A strategic planning committee will use the information gathered on Wednesday over the next several months to form a plan of action for the regional effort.

Mark Young, president and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce, said Stronger Economies Together is giving the region an opportunity to plan for future economic success. Young also serves as president of the NEA Economic Development Coalition.

"It was great to have the participation of representatives from six counties that continue to work together to improve the economy of Northeast Arkansas," he said.

Anyone who would like to become more involved in the Stronger Economies Together program can contact Andrea Allen, deputy director of the Delta Center for Economic Development at 870-972-3000 or via email at anallen@astate.edu.

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