UACES Facebook Create Bridges | Tourism and Business Initiatives in Rural Arkansas
skip to main content


CREATE BRIDGESCelebrating REtail, Accommodations, 
Tourism, and Entertainment by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies

Create Bridges program logo
CREATE BRIDGES aims to strengthen economies in rural Arkansas by building capacity in retail, tourism, accommodations, and entertainment sectors.

What is the CREATE BRIDGES initiative?

The CREATE BRIDGES initiative was launched to develop and test a process to promote and strengthen these industries, particularly in rural areas.

The process is designed to:

1. Raise awareness of the role these important businesses play in the local economy;

2. Determine challenges and barriers negatively impacting those businesses; and

3. Develop and implement strategies to strengthen the retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment sectors within a region.


CREATE BRIDGES is a three year pilot with the first year spent engaging the community and collecting information and the second year spent implementing strategies designed by the regional steering committee. The steps include:

  1. Form a regional steering committee
  2. Conduct an asset and resource map of CREATE businesses and existing training programs
  3. Host a CREATE BRIDGES forum
  4. Convene a retail academy where national and regional data about region are presented and discussed
  5. Interviews and surveys of business owners, managers and employees
  6. Develop new strategies and actions appropriate for region based on data collected during Steps 2-4               

CREATE BRIDGES - Regions Served

Ozark FoothillsOzark Foothills Forum - January 31

The Ozark Foothills region of Sharp, Fulton, and Izard counties has a demonstrated commitment to CREATE BRIDGES businesses and a clear desire to grow their tourism and retail industries. Famous for its annual Cave City Watermelon Festival, the area is currently in the planning process for a multi-city tourism event in 2019. It also boasts Ozarka College and the newly opened Spring River Innovation Hub. This region’s steering committee is comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders, ranging from city mayors to local business owners.

3C's (Cossatot Community Connection)

De Queen Arkansas  The 3C's region (Cossatot Community Connection) Little River, Howard, and Sevier region is working together   to elevate CREATE BRIDGES businesses. The area is home to popular natural tourism spots, with heavy interstate   traffic due to its proximity to major highways. This region’s steering committee is comprised of county extension   agents and area economic developers, with a history of working together to conduct agricultural and leadership   programming, and has the support of University of Arkansas Cossatot for potential training and educational   opportunities.  

Business Retention and Expansion Interviews

Interviews and Roundtables completed by October 2019. The Business Retention and Expansion interview questions can be found here:

Employee Perspectives Survey

This anonymous survey was completed by January 2020. 

Strategy Development and Launch 

Learn more about CREATE BRIDGES

While manufacturing and professional services are often the focus of economic development, businesses focused on retail, accommodations, tourism and entertainment are important to the viability of rural communities and regions. These industries provide needed goods, services and amenities to local residents and visitors and enhance quality of life. They are a major source of jobs and tax revenue in rural communities. They often provide the first work experience for residents who move up the career path within these businesses or go on to work in other sectors.

Currently, planning and training focused on these sectors is often neglected or underemphasized despite a need to strengthen it. As a result, small and large businesses alike face high worker turnover rates and a dwindling pool of mid/upper management workers.

The CREATE BRIDGES Initiative is a partnership among the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC), University of Kentucky’s Community & Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service’s Community and Economic Development (UACES-CED), and Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service. The second phase of CREATE BRIDGES launched in 2020 and includes University of Illinois, New Mexico State University, and North Carolina State University. 

Partner Links