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Community development conference to focus on 21st century economy

By the U of A System Division of Agriculture
May 15, 2017

Fast Facts:

(532 words)

LITTLE ROCK – Communities that have a lot to offer both residents and visitors may be missing out on priceless opportunities when they decline to engage the outside world through the premier communications medium of the 21st century: The Internet.

The 2017 Breakthrough Solutions Conference, scheduled for June 8 at the University of Arkansas System Cooperative Extension Service headquarters in Little Rock, will focus on how communities can reimagine themselves in the 21st century economy, said Mark Peterson, Professor of Economics and Community Development for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“Communities that embrace the opportunities within the 21st century economy can prosper,” Peterson said. “And those communities who do not, or are unaware of them, will lose ground.”

Peterson said a recent experience illustrated how key elements of the 21st century economy can affect communities in rural Arkansas and elsewhere. 

“In Arkansas, I recently visited a college town on an interstate highway with a population of more than 9,000 people,” Peterson said. “The community has more than 20 vacant buildings downtown, plus several slabs where buildings used to be.  Clearly, the community used to be thriving, with a vibrant downtown and many family businesses.  But times have changed, and the 21st century economy has not been kind to it. 

“I met with local community leaders and through our discussion, learned that they have more than 20 things to do in or near the community. But according to, the world’s largest travel site there are only three things to do in or near that community.

“Two hundred and eighty-six million people in the United States use the Internet, and many are looking for things to do on their travels,” he said. “If they see only three things to do in your community, they might not stop, or if they do, it would probably be for just part of a day as they pass through. 

“The 21st century economy is global, it is digital, and it is fast.  If you are not on the Internet (in multiple venues), you don’t exist,” he said.

The Internet provides small communities an amazing opportunity to advertise themselves to the world, he said, but it requires an understanding of the 21st century economy and how to take advantage of its powerful forces.

“Re-Imagining Your Community / Region in the 21st Century Economy” is the theme of the 2017 Breakthrough Solutions Conference. Its purpose is to provide community and regional leaders with insights, tools and strategies that can be used to develop a vibrant 21st century community or region. 

More than 28 speakers will be sharing their insights and success stories in the 21st century economy. The conference’s keynote speaker, Zachary Mannheimer, specializes in creative placemaking – economic development for the next generation. 

Attendees are also invited to pre-conference workshops on June 7 addressing practical steps to re-imagining their community in the 21st century economy and developing cultural competence – becoming an effective leader across cultures and boundaries.  

These events will take place at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension

Service headquarters, 2301 South University in Little Rock.  The early bird registration deadline for the conference is May 24.  For more information, go to, or call 501-5671-2072.


About the Division of Agriculture

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system. 

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.


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Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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