UACES Facebook Cooperative Extension Service to implement economic development initiative focused on workforce training
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Aug. 9, 2021

Cooperative Extension Service to implement economic development initiative focused on workforce training

By Ryan McGeeney
U of A System Division of Agriculture 

Fast Facts:

  • ‘CREATE LIFT’ focuses on ‘Leading Innovation through workforce Training’
  • Strategies developed in 2021 in response to 2019-2020 needs assessment

(904 words)

LITTLE ROCK — The Cooperative Extension Service is launching a new workforce training initiative, known as “CREATE LIFT.” The program is facilitated by the Department of Community, Professional and Economic Development, which is part of extension and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

BUILDING BRIDGES — CREATE BRIDGES, like CREATE LIFT, is an acronym: “Celebrating Retail, Accommodations, Tourism and Entertainment by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies.”

CREATE LIFT is an acronym for “Celebrating Retail, Accommodations, Tourism and Entertainment by Leading Innovation through workForce Training.” The initiative is one of several strategies that a regional steering committee developed in 2021 in response to a comprehensive needs assessment conducted in 2019 and 2020. The findings of that assessment emphasized the need to develop workforce training based on skills and knowledge valued by business owners and employees.

The CREATE LIFT training is divided into five modules focusing on customer service, essential skills, hospitality, local tourism and marketing and branding. Instructors from regional educational institutions University of Arkansas - Cossatot Community College in southwest Arkansas and Ozarka College in northcentral Arkansas developed the content.

Participants will receive a completion certificate and the free training will be housed on the Extension learning website CREATE LIFT is currently available in English. A Spanish version will be available at the end of the summer.

The Division of Agriculture’s Community, Professional and Economic Development experts partnered with local leaders in the Ozark Foothills region (Sharp, Fulton, and Izard counties) and the 3C’s region (Little River, Sevier, and Howard counties) to develop and implement strategies to strengthen retail, accommodations, tourism, and entertainment sectors as part of the “CREATE BRIDGES” pilot initiative.

CREATE BRIDGES, like CREATE LIFT, is an acronym: “Celebrating Retail, Accommodations, Tourism and Entertainment by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies.”

Julianne Dunn, economic development instructor for the Division of Agriculture, said the strategies outlined in the 2021 report respond to needs that existed before the COVID-19 pandemic but have intensified during the past year.

“Findings from the needs assessment illustrated a need for both employees and business owners to gain capacity within three main areas: essential skills needed to be successful in the workplace, online marketing skills for small businesses and developing management and leadership skills for employees to be able to grow professionally,” Dunne said. “Additionally, the findings demonstrated interest in a stronger connection with local leaders and exploring innovation opportunities for communities.”

Ethan J. Barnes, 2020 President of the Spring River Area Chamber of Commerce and an Ozark Foothills founding regional steering committee member, said tailoring workforce training to the actual needs of area employers will help job seekers in their effort to find employment closer to the communities in which they live.

“The findings from the CREATE BRIDGES assessment provided area leadership the data needed to best fit our individual counties in the Ozark Foothills region,” Barnes said. “Sharp County’s needs will be met in regard to workforce development, preparing job seekers and current employees of small businesses in rural Arkansas to have much better success in improving their soft skills.

“In turn, this will result in an overall improvement of quality of life for many individuals — indefinitely changed the future economy of rural Arkansas for centuries to come,” he said. “We cannot thank this group enough for their developmental work to improve the Ozark Foothills Region as a whole.”

Suzanne Babb, founding member of the 3C’s regional steering committee in Sevier, Little River, and Howard, agreed.

“CREATE LIFT is a must for anyone serving the public,” Babb said. “The free self-paced online program is a great resource to give any business or member of the workforce a leading edge. I highly recommend it.”

The data collected in 2019-2020 also led to the development of the following strategies: COVID-19 safety and reopening signage; an online video series outlining how business owners can create and manage profiles on Google My Business, Facebook Business, Trip Advisor, and Yelp; a webinar series with national partner Retail Minded on how to navigate the holiday season during a pandemic; the launch of a podcast “Small Business, Big Rural Impact” to highlight the resiliency of regional businesses, cities and support agencies; the creation and distribution of a “Capturing Local Dollars” guide for holiday shopping; hosting a webinar with to encourage more businesses to set up a profile on the state tourism website; a consumer survey to understand what values and services consumers prefer from retailers; and hosting business development events in Spanish for Spanish-speaking business owners and employees.

The strategies support both the businesses and the workforce in the region.

CREATE BRIDGES is a national pilot initiative that launched in 2018 and consists of two cohorts, Phase I and Phase II. Phase I states include Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma, led by community development specialists at with the Division of Agriculture (Dr. Stacey McCullough), the University of Kentucky Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (Dr. Alison Davis) and the Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service (Sara Siems).

Phase II launched in 2020 and includes multi-county regions in Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina, led by community development specialists with the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service (Susan Odum), New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service (Dr. Michael Patrick) and North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service (Becky Bowen and Susan Jakes). This work is supported by the Southern Rural Development Center (SRDC) through funding provided by Walmart.

Learn more about CREATE BRIDGES in Arkansas at Review some of the resources developed at, or listen to the podcast at

To learn more about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit Follow us on Twitter at @AR_Extension.


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 Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.  

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:
Ryan McGeeney
Communications Services
University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2120