BY LEANN DILBECK –
Dr. Wayne Miller was the ARCO’s (Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas) featured speaker when they met at RMCC last Wednesday, September 5. Miller is an economist focused on Community and Economic Development through the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Miller began his presentation by saying that the region must first determine if they want more of the same OR do they want to improve their standard of living and quality of life. To have the latter means change and many times, we as a society can be resistant. He quoted Benjamin Franklin, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished” as he introduced the model of Benjamin Franklin who showed exemplary leadership through establishing institutions that increase the capacity of individuals, brought people together for the common good, promoted technological innovation but maintained service to the present needs at hand.
He presented a number of slides depicting the decline of employment specific to industry type for the ARCO region and how it corresponded to national trends. He then showed projections for the ARCO region if economic development is not addressed as well as population trends.
Miller strongly supported that economic development efforts generate greater results when community and business leaders build on existing strengths and focus on growing industry clusters across a regional economy.
When in Mena, Governor Beebe, praised the “regionalism” efforts of ARCO and was asked specifically what support ARCO could look forward to receiving from his office. Beebe replied, “One of the things we don’t do is pick one part of the state over another. But in those areas where they are willing to work together, like ARCO, they deserve a little bit more attention, because they pool their resources, it gives you a leg up. Secondly, I can’t make somebody go someplace. What I can do is tell them about the work ethic, talk regionalism with them, increasing the influence of a particular area. And what I can do is make available on a reasonable basis the resources of the Economic Development Commission to aid or assist the retention or expansion of existing businesses or the attraction of new business. We don’t just throw money at it…its based on a lot of different factors like what kind and the number of jobs that will be created and what kind of money those jobs are going to be paying and so on.”
Miller identified ARCO’s regional strengths as • natural resources • economic diversity within the region • RMCC • airport • volunteer spirit • growing regional identity and commitment to cooperate across region.
Miller prioritized the economic development strategies broadly as • strengthen capacity through intentional collaborative, continuous improvement • shift focus from regional competition to increasing labor productivity • increase productivity of natural resources • add value to locally produced raw products • strengthen collaboration and cooperation among schools, industry, business, and local government and lastly, expand within existing industry clusters. He then addressed specific steps to achieve each of the strategies.
Miller closed by encouraging the region to “grow its own” through entrepreneurs and industries.