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ARCO in Action Pushes Forward

by Mark Peterson and Emily Smith - July 25, 2019

Rumblings of “action” and “momentum” echoed throughout the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce as groups collaboratively discussed ways to transform strategic planning into immediate action during the 2019 Breakthrough Solutions Pre-Conference Workshop.

The pre-conference workshop, "Creating Connected Communities: A Hands-On Workshop for ARCO in Action,” took place on June 25 and featured the three-county Arkansas Coalition for the Ouachitas. This region, known as ARCO for short, includes Montgomery, Polk, and Scott counties. As the pilot community, local ARCO leaders, in collaboration with Breakthrough Solutions Partners, worked to coordinate community conversations and working groups aimed at creating action-oriented strategies that could be applied to the ARCO region.

“Most counties in Arkansas are losing population and so there is tremendous need for community leaders to come together to engage citizens, plan for the future, and take action," said Mark Peterson, Professor of Community and Economic Development. “In this time of rapid change, it’s critical to take action, make things happen and build momentum towards positive community and economic development."

Prior to the pre-conference, Breakthrough Solutions partners and staff toured each community before facilitating a conversation with community leaders/stakeholders aimed at identifying the assets, opportunities and potential areas for the region to grow. These partners included, Roby Robertson from UA Little Rock, Phil Plyer from Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and Tandee White from Entergy Arkansas.

Working Groups Working Group 2

At the pre-conference workshop, Breakthrough Solutions partners, ARCO leaders, community members, and guests participated in small group discussions on the following topic areas: Broadband, Tourism Marketing and Branding, Workforce Development, Quality of Life and Place, Business Development and Entrepreneurship, Quilt Trail, and Funding and Finance. Each working group, as a result, identified the low hanging fruit—opportunities for immediate action.

In addition to the working session, pre-conference guests heard  from a variety of speakers including a panel of North Little Rock experts and Jim Dailey, Director of Tourism and former Little Rock Mayor. Dailey spoke to this notion of moving forward in the context of tourism and shared insights on six trends communities could tap into when addressing community  development.

“We have identified six trends that will impact our tourism industry moving forward,” Dailey said.

Director of Tourism Jim Dailey ARCO in Action Working Group Here are those trends:

  • New Urbanism – Today 54% of our population lives in cities and by 2050, 75% of our population will be living in cities.
  • Trails as Tourism – Link trails, trail users, and adjoining towns to create memorable experiences and enhance the local economy
  • Influenced and Reviewed – Although word of mouth is the most popular method for publicizing your community’s attractions, social media influencers are having a huge impact, and tourism experiences are reviewed on line.
  • Mainstreaming Recreation – 85% of Americans think everyone should have access to nearby nature trails. Hank Weber from Washington University stated:  “Successful cities not only have great assets, they have great ways to connect those assets.”  Little Rock has been known as “A city within a park”. 
  • Environmental Literacy – In the past ten years there has been an explosion in interest in connecting young children to nature: “No child left inside”. Trails are outdoor classrooms, and provide opportunities to learn about, appreciate, and preserve our natural environment.
  • Who Travels How? Knowing this – who travels, why, and how is essential to effective tourism development.  This includes solo travelers, niche markets and personalization, last minute trips, leisure travelers (include tourism with business), and authentic experiences.

“Every community has a story to tell,” Dailey said. “We need to work together to tell those stories.”

Breakthrough Solutions will continue to work with the ARCO region as they work to implement their strategies in the communities. The next meeting will take place Aug. 9 in the ARCO region.