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CED Blog

Corning is Growing Together

by Emily Smith - March 4, 2019

In July, Corning’s largest employer and only major grocery store closed. Community-wide uncertainty ensued, prompting community members, stakeholders and businesses to evaluate how the loss of this major employer would impact the economic future of Corning.

The shock of Walmart closing did not last long. Instead, community members in this northeast Arkansas community transformed their concern into action. Corning city council meetings doubled in size and smaller community meetings started to take place in the evenings. The citizens of Corning took control of their future through civic engagement and “Growing Corning Together”

Stewart Runsick, UA Cooperative Extension Service Agent for Clay County, witnessed the passion and energy exhibited by community members and saw an opportunity to connect the city’s desire to take action with extension resources.

“All of a sudden the rooms were packed and people wanted to get involved and volunteer. I went to the City Council meeting and explained to them that there are resources through the UA Extension for communities like Breakthrough Solutions,” Runsick said.

Runsick first learned about Breakthrough Solutions while on a learning trip to Manilla, Arkansas. Manilla used Breakthrough Solutions strategies to improve their airport and overall community. This partnership resulted in “Moving Manila Forward,” a 501c3 devoted to sustaining the growth of Manila through various community development initiatives, events, and meetings.

“We discussed their success in Manilla and their involvement with Breakthrough Solutions. I asked if something could be done like that in Corning and they suggested I reach out to Dr. Mark Peterson.”

Peterson is a professor of Community and Economic Development at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.

Runsick’s effort to generate Breakthrough Solutions buy-in was a success. He gathered contact information of interested community members and connected with Dr. Peterson for strategic meeting advice before hosting a space for community members to connect. Mayor Rob Young, Corning City Council members, and a variety of community members convened to discuss the future of Corning.

In the following months, interest in these meetings intensified. Every couple of weeks, more and more Corning citizens gathered together to talk about ways to develop their city. In addition to these conversations, the group sought feedback from the Corning community as a whole.

A community-wide survey indicated that citizens wanted more things to do like community events and were concerned about the job industry. Ultimately, “Growing Corning” emerged as the official group name and currently consists of citizens committed to developing their local Corning community through strategic initiatives and morale boosting pursuits.

“Turning the conversation to a positive is what we’ve really been able to accomplish more than anything. People are helping themselves instead of complaining about it,” Runsick said.

Since these first initial meetings, the group has expanded tremendously to include a diverse array of community members and stakeholders. Growing Corning Together is growing and it’s growing fast. Action teams meet in between the larger monthly meetings to address things to do, downtown revitalization, business retention, and infrastructure.

In addition to Growing Corning’s meetings, they drummed up support and legitimacy by hosting activities aimed at community wide involvement such as community wide clean ups. Events like these enable everyone to work together, build relationships, and simultaneously make a difference you can see, according to Runsick.

Runsick was most surprised that a lot of Corning folks did not now about UA Extension Services. Now, Extension is an integral part to Corning’s community development.

Be on the lookout for upcoming events and program including an annual golf tournament, a talent show, movie nights, educational programs, and plans to repurpose abandoned buildings. We are proud of Growing Corning Together and look forward to hearing more reports.