UACES Facebook LeadAR Class 20 Travels to Hot Springs Area to Explore Infrastructure and Forestry Industry in Seminar 2
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LeadAR Class 20 Travels to Hot Springs Area to Explore Infrastructure and Forestry Industry in Seminar 2

by Jody Harris, Co-Owner, Harris Valley Springs Farm - July 31, 2023

Photo collage of LeadAR Class 20 in Hot SpringsJody Harris headshotIn her own words, Jody Harris, co-owner of Harris Valley Springs Farm in Fayetteville and a member of LeadAR Class 20, reflects on her experience in the LeadAR seminar held recently in Hot Springs.

The LeadAR Class 20 cohort traveled to Hot Springs on July 27 and 28, 2023. During this seminar, Class 20 had its first presiders. Meagan Davis, an attorney with Maddox & Maddox Law firm in Mena, presided over the seminar at Hot Springs City Hall. The group was welcomed by Mayor Pat McCabe and received an in-depth state-of-the-city address from Deputy City Manager Lance Spicer.

As the city of Hot Springs has shifted out of the pandemic, tourism and hospitality revenues have rebounded. There is an effort for the city to purchase an old church building to address the needs of unhoused citizens of the city. The city has plans to utilize a request for proposal (RFP) process to partner with non-profit organizations that can address the needs of the city’s unhoused.

Hot Springs has enjoyed a good relationship with the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT). This relationship has proven instrumental in improving infrastructure of roads in and around the city of Hot Springs. One of the more challenging areas for the city includes the abandoned army/navy hospital – a 300,000 square foot structure that looms over the city with 27 buildings. City officials are navigating state and federal partnerships to potentially acquire and utilize this asset by working closely with the Department of Interior and Department of Defense. 

Finally, Spicer provided insight on how the city has managed short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb and VRBO) through a city registration ordinance and caps on short-term rentals in residential zones. He described how short-term rentals and hotels complement one another by meeting the needs of various visiting clientele.

Deputy City Manager Denny McPhate provided the group a look into several water supply projects that will have a massive impact on the city. He explained a three-part raw water project would be completed by December 2025. This project will allow the city to open a new water treatment plant that would eventually treat 15 million gallons of water per day. The city underwent a 12-year process to obtain water rights from the U.S. Corps of Engineers to draw water from Lake Ouachita and preserve water rights to Lake Greeson.

Other highlights of this area included a $65 million project for wastewater treatment. The city’s water department is a unique area of needed workforce development. Employees receive compensation based upon additional on-the-job training and education certificates. McPhate wrapped up his presentation with an overview of the solar farm that currently provides 6.01 megawatts of power to city buildings and the pump station.

Assistant City Engineer Mike Hill provided an overview of city trails, paving and ARDOT projects. Hill began his presentation by highlighting some of his own leadership learning from a John Maxwell book called "16 Undeniable Laws of Communication."

Book Summary: The 16 Undeniable Laws of Communication - Apply Them and Make the Most of Your Message (

He broke down his presentation to include:

  1. Leverage Uniqueness - Hot Springs is a unique city and has Greenway trails including a Wetlands trail complete with parking and restrooms at Lake Hamilton. It also touts its own kayak and canoe launch from that trailhead.

  2. Importance of Partnering - Partnerships have been a key to the success of receiving grants and city funding for park projects. A non-profit organization called Friends of the Park has been instrumental in helping develop and acquire land needed to continue to provide an excellent Greenway trail system for the area.
  3. Diversity of Experience - He described the need for diversity of thinking on projects. He typically sees buildings and construction through the lens of an engineer and values them for function or replacement. He appreciates his counterpart Loren Morphew from West Central Planning & Development District because she understands grant funding and historic preservation of existing assets and structures.

  4. Stakeholders - Obtaining input from various stakeholders has helped the city improve rain gardens and controlling water flow at Hot Springs National Park. Hot Springs boasts way-finding signs that are appropriate in both car and pedestrian situations to serve citizens and visitors. He shared that the increased paving budget has allowed for street and sidewalk improvements by gaining buy-in from key stakeholders to pass a 5/8 cent tax. This tax millage has funded these improvements that will be enjoyed for years to come.

  5. Relationships - Finally, Hill stated that ARDOT projects in or near Hot Springs have been successful because of the relationship and line of communication between ARDOT administration and the city’s mayor. ARDOT will undergo some restructuring and will add District 11. This takes Hot Springs out of competition with funding with Little Rock and allows more focus on the needs of this beautiful and unique tourism city.

The final presentation at City Hall was Loren Morphew, who is six months into her role with West Central Planning & Development District. She provided a brief snapshot of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

Many in our cohort were new to the services provided by CDBGs and there were many questions from LeadAR Class 20. These grants are administered and awarded based on data from local and city resources. There are many long-term plans and strategies that go into the implementation of CDBGs to do acquisitions, historic restoration, economic and job development, public facilities, and section 108 loans.

Hot Springs is focused on housing rehabilitation and has gained citizen participation and input through door-to-door interviews, listening sessions, neighborhood association meetings, Chamber of Commerce, and the Housing Authority. This is over the course of 10-12 years making improvements block-by-block. For more information on CDBGs in Hot Springs, or to search your local community’s beneficiaries of this funding, go to Hot Springs, AR - HUD Exchange.

Class 20 Afternoon Sessions

After a riveting morning at City Hall, the group loaded a Hot Springs Public Schools (HSPS) Bus to be transported to lunch. HSPS Bus Driver Mike Lybarger provided transportation for both days of this seminar. He was patient, kind and shared some of the things he does to connect with the students he drives to and from school and to extracurricular events. Lybarger rolled up in a school bus unlike many of us had ever been on. It was clean, air conditioned and had safety features that most in our group had never experienced in school bus transportation. Lybarger is just another one of Hot Springs’ hidden gems and the group appreciated him very much.

Deserae Nelson, Director, TRIO Student Support Services at the University of Arkansas Little Rock presided over the afternoon sessions.

Lunch was hosted by John Hoefl, Aspire Wealth Builders (LeadAR Class 13). LeadAR Class 20 enjoyed a private room at Crystal Ridge Distillery hosted by Danny and Mary Bradley. Prohibition has been over for many years. The Bradleys embraced the return of legal distilling to Arkansas along with their son Asher and decided to bring the tradition of moonshine distilling once again out of the woods and into the heart of downtown Hot Springs. The distillery is in the historic F.C. Stearns Warehouse. Crystal Ridge Distillery works to blend the roots of distilling in Hot Springs with modern technology and the best distilling practices to produce premium spirits with several unique flavors.

The Bradleys opened their business during the pandemic and were able to pivot production to hand sanitizer to meet the needs of the state’s health requirements in many business environments. Today, the business is thriving. LeadAR Class 20 members enjoyed a moonshine tour and tasting sponsored by retired County Treasurer Jo West Davis (LeadAR Class 8). Members enjoyed the tasting and purchasing merchandise and libations in the quaint gift shop. To learn more about Crystal Ridge Distillery check out Crystal Ridge Distillery - Crystal Ridge Distillery.

Thursday afternoon was spent at the Ouachita Water Treatment Plant. Water Production Manager Cody Howell and Water Production Superintendent Chase Helton gave the class a peek behind the scenes of water treatment for the city of Hot Springs. This massive facility boasted many buildings for various stages of the water treatment process for potable drinking water.

One Class 20 cohort's, Chelsea Boozer, government affairs manager at Central Arkansas Water, was also able to lend her knowledge to the importance of various roles of water treatment facilities to a city like Hot Springs. The group acknowledged the unique job opportunities that the industry of water treatment presents for future Arkansans in rural and urban communities. There is a lot of opportunity for upward mobility in these positions. Howell and Helton recalled the work that went into the February 2023 snowstorm to keep the water treatment plant functioning during a winter weather crisis. In his free time, Howell plays in a local band called Crutchfield. These were just two more hidden gems among the community of Hot Springs – the class appreciated their passion and in-depth knowledge of water treatment.

Seminar 2 Evening Recap

That evening, LeadAR alumnae Karen Garcia hosted a catered dinner at the Chittum Event Venue in her neighborhood. Due to a family emergency, the group was not able to personally thank Garcia for this lovely dinner and venue, it was enjoyed by all who attended. The group enjoyed a steak dinner and lively conversations with former LeadAR members who turned out that evening to network with LeadAR Class 20.

The group stayed at Oaklawn Casino & Resort overnight. The hotel was completed two years ago and hosts many events to attract visitors near and far. Gaming’s history in Hot Springs dates back to the era when gangsters like Owney Madden and Al Capone ran amuck in the city. The group enjoyed beautiful rooms overlooking Oaklawn racetrack, home to the Arkansas Derby. The casino was busy that evening and the staff was hospitable and rolled out the red carpet for LeadAR Class 20. 

Day 2 of Seminar 2

Friday morning started bright an early and was presided over by Wendall Scales, Jr., deputy director of innovation for Arkansas Lighthouse Charter Schools. Scales kept the group on schedule for this full day of learning.  

The group met Jason Warner, southern district forester land department of Green Bay Packaging, Inc. in the middle of the woods near Jessieville. Here, the group gleaned onto his knowledge of clear cutting, stream-side management zones, site preparation and regeneration. The class also saw the growth differences for a three-year-old tree stand and an 18-year-old stand and harvest.

Warner, a former US Marine and graduate of Mississippi State University was incredibly knowledgeable on the timber industry. Arkansas ranks third for economic impact of forestry and first among southern states (Arkansas Economic Development Commission). This entity of agriculture contributes to consumer needs and the Arkansas workforce. Green Bay packaging manufactures coated label products, corrugated packaging, in-store displays, and folding cartons. This makes a significant contribution to the rural Arkansas economy, to learn more go to Green Bay Packaging | A Leader in Packaging Solutions (

Lunch was at Smokin’ in Style BBQ. The Johnson family owns this business and provided a delicious meal and a meeting space for the afternoon session. This is a space where community organizations gather to meet and enjoy lunch in Hot Springs.

National Study Tour Priorities and Asset Based Development on Day 2

Sherry Beaty-Sullivan, county extension agent-staff chair, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service (UADA-CES) presided over lunch and the afternoon session. After lunch, she and LeadAR staff facilitated a discussion about the National Study Tour priorities for the week planned in Washington, D.C. for September.

To wrap up this jam-packed seminar, LeadAR Class 20 was introduced to Dr. Hunter Goodman, UADA-CES assistant professor, community, workforce, and economic development, and a session to explore Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD).

Goodman described ABCD as a lens for discovering what is strong in local communities, not what is wrong. Breakout groups explored how to utilize gifts, relationships, values and more to create community-led action plans. In essence, communities must determine how they want to be and the people in those communities are the clients. A favorite exercise of the group was called Head, Hands, Heart, Heal and Habit of community to dissect what we know, what we can do, what we are passionate about, self-care and what we enjoy doing with others.

The city of Hot Springs has a motto, “We bathe the world." LeadAR class 20 was bathed in two days of discovering unique challenges and strengths of this community. The class is walking away with knowledge and ideas for how to overcome challenges in each local community by capitalizing on community strengths – people.

LeadAR is a program designed to help Arkansans broaden their understanding of issues and opportunities facing our state and strengthen their ability to make a difference. For more information about LeadAR, visit the website or contact Robinson,, or Lisa Davis,