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ARCO Continues Gaining Momentum in Regional Economic Development

BY LEANN DILBECK –

The July meeting of the Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas (ARCO) certainly captured the attention and support of Montgomery County as the meeting held in Mt. Ida, July 18, attracted over 50 in attendance. Members from Polk and Scott counties were also in attendance as the group continues to make progress in the Breakthrough Solutions initiative.

Breakthrough Solutions is a program of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service that has 17 partners in the public, private and non-profit sectors.  The City of Harrison was the pilot community for Breakthrough Solutions and to date, has succeeded in attracting 32 new businesses in two years. Locally, the initiative is being co-sponsored through ARCO and Rich Mountain Community College, which has a vested interest in all three counties represented.

Facilitator Dr. Mark Peterson said that ARCO itself has become an example of a group that has grasped the concept of the power of working as a region and finding commonalities to reach goals to spur economic development.

Specifically, ARCO seeks to address the job loss in the region. The population of Arkansas grew 9.1 percent from 2000 to 2010. During the same time period, the ARCO region population increased 2.1 percent.

However, while the number of jobs in Arkansas increased by 2.5 percent during 2000 to 2010, the ARCO region lost a staggering 2,224 jobs, 11.1 percent, and an approximate loss of income to the region of $60 million.

ARCO Chair Gar Eisele reiterated that was why it was so important for communities within the region to take a proactive approach to avoid further economic deterioration. He reported that he was pleased at the support that has been received thus far, citing that $13,250 in pledges has been made in support of the Partners for a Vibrant, Sustainable Future from Union Bank of Mena, Subway of Mena – Vicki Stanley, Washburn’s Home Furnishings, Roy Vail, and Dr. Mark Peterson.  “We have a great start to reach our $30,000 goal and it’s because of these visionaries that we can begin investing in restoring and building our communities.”

Dr. Peterson emphasized that communities have to be willing to re-invent themselves and embrace change. “To be successful, communities must change from focusing on the problems to focusing on the assets.”

He provided the example of Park City, Utah, a former booming mining community that in the 1970’s lurked on the edge of becoming a ghost town. Park City evaluated its assets and worked as a community until it re-invented itself into a skiing community.  They continued to seize upon the seasonal success of the skiing traffic and ultimately built the community into a year-round resort.

Dr. Peterson illustrated the asset of Camp Ozark in Montgomery County. The camp is responsible for bringing in between 5,500 to 6,000 children during the summer months alone and thus their families. He gave the assignment to those in attendance to work in groups for just three minutes to identify opportunities to attract those families to extend their stay in the region. The ideas flooded in. “The suggestions that were made confirm our expectations…those in our communities are interested in working together for economic development and until now, never really had the platform to build upon or express their ideas,” Eisele said. “Every meeting we hold, I am continually encouraged and look forward to continued progress.”