Gaining Statewide Attention
BY LEANN DILBECK –
A Community and Economic Development Resource Fair hosted by a group that has seamlessly united three counties and is quickly becoming the driving-force for economic development in the region, ARCO [Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas], was hosted last Wednesday, March 27 in Mena’s Historic Armory, attracting almost 80 participants, including Arkansas own congressional delegation. ARCO membership encompasses Polk, Scott and Montgomery counties.
The free event was made possible through the Duke Frederick Fund for Public Understanding of Civic, Community, and Economic Issues. The fair featured state, federal, and non-governmental agencies along with private enterprises to offer advice and services to attendees.
Dr. Mark Peterson, the facilitator for Breakthrough Solutions, a program ARCO is currently utilizing through the University of Arkansas Extension Service commented on the large turn-out for the fair, “I think it shows there is a lot of interest in this three county area. The turn-out from local people and local elected officials is significant and I look forward to exciting things coming out of this,” Peterson continued to say that people at the fair were people committed to improving the community, committed to continuing to build on all of the good things that are already in place, “which is exactly what ARCO and the Partners for the Future Initiative is all about.”
ARCO isn’t only making a difference in the local communities but is gaining the nods statewide. ARCO’s philosophy of “strength in numbers,” combining resources and becoming a stronger voice in the state for economic development will, in fact, be featured on May 7 in a state-wide conference of Breakthrough Solutions.
Peterson said through their efforts, there are groups working in each of the three counties. One of the strongest catalysts was renderings developed by Cromwell Architects of possible downtown revitalizations. Having the visual depictions of the untapped potential illustrated to residents the core of ARCO, which is economic development. They were simply suggestions based off of what the representatives had seen work in other parts of the state or country and must garnish funding and city/county government support to become a reality. Residents were also given the opportunity to participate in charettes to help the representatives gain better insight to resources and hidden opportunities within the community. Though the images were very exciting, it left many in the community asking “Will this really happen and if so, when?”
According to Peterson, each community holds the answer. “Every community is unique, different and special. We’ve studied the most successful community development projects in this state and other states. The pattern we see is that it always starts with a small group. They have a vision and they start to include other people. The Little Rock River Market is a perfect example. It’s led to over $2 billion in investments from public, private, and non-profit sectors and it all began with just three people at lunch one day writing on a napkin how they were going to start the river market.”
When asked how Mena/Polk County compared with other communities studied, Peterson commented on the high energy level found not only here but throughout the entire ARCO region, “We’ve found when you have a lot of energy, it leads to action, activity and improvements. Some things happen pretty quickly, other things take years but it all starts with a vision and local people who are committed to working together and I see that here in spades.”