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By Rebekah Hall U of A System Division of Agriculture
Nov. 14, 2023
(686 words)(Newsrooms: With graphic)
LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. Economic Development Administration recently awarded a $650,000,
five-year grant to the Cooperative Extension Service’s Community, Professional and
Economic Development department to establish and operate a University Center. The
center will serve extension’s mission to strengthen Arkansans and their communities
by connecting them with research-based resources throughout the state.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Extension Center for Rural
Resilience and Workforce Development will not be a physical location, but rather a
resource serving the state’s “economic development ecosystem,” with a particular focus
on rural marginalized populations, including Hispanic and Marshallese communities.
Hunter Goodman, extension director of the University Center for the Division of Agriculture,
said an economic development ecosystem “includes all of the organizations and groups
that focus on improving local economies, which might include chambers of commerce,
business consulting organizations, cities, counties, regional nonprofits and lenders,
as well as county extension offices.”
Goodman said this work will be done in partnership with Arkansas’ eight Planning and
Development Districts, or PDDs, which are funded by the U.S. Economic Development
Administration. PDDs are multi-jurisdictional entities, commonly composed of multiple
counties and sometimes across state borders. Goodman said PDDs develop local and regional
strategies for comprehensive economic development, and they partner with public, private
and non-profit sectors to implement these strategies.
Working with these PDDs, extension will offer training and workshops for their staff
and community partners — such as municipalities, council members, chambers of commerce
or quorum courts — on strategic planning and facilitation, grant writing, data literacy
and more. This training will also involve teaching staff how to develop culturally
relevant outreach opportunities for marginalized communities.
Brandon L. Mathews, extension program manager for the University Center, said staff
from the PDDs “expressed a desire to connect to rural, Hispanic and Marshallese communities,
but needed assistance developing the right resources, personnel, and networks.”
“There are organizations that support these three populations, and extension wants
to be a statewide resource that brings these organizations together to provide workshops
and training to communities who need them,” Mathews said. “Across the state, these
organizations provide business consulting to entrepreneurs and small business owners,
and they have a vested interest in the same three communities.”
Mathews said that by creating better communication among these organizations and the
populations they seek to assist, more opportunities for economic development can be
made available — such as county or regional job fairs with information about small
business support, employee trainings, financing and capital, and mentoring opportunities.
Tracking workforce data
Extension’s University Center will also develop a data resource center focusing on
workforce data. The University Center will partner with Heartland Forward, a Bentonville-based
nonprofit that studies “broad economic trends and builds data-driven and community-tested
partnerships, programs and policies to address local needs,” Mathews said.
“Heartland Forward is excited to partner with extension to deliver data tools and
build capacity at the local and regional levels in Arkansas around workforce development,”
said Dave Shideler, chief research officer for Heartland Forward.
“Heartland Forward will create interactive data dashboards called ‘labor market observatories’
for the eight PDDs, which will focus on workforce data primarily for rural, Hispanic
and Marshallese populations,” Mathews said.
These dashboards will be used to identify and analyze labor market trends and opportunities
for future programming — workshops, trainings and other extension outreach.
Goodman said Heartland Forward staff will coach extension county agents through a
curriculum that teaches them workforce development skills, helps them identify and
address the needs of workers and employers in rural communities, and equips them as
trainers to then share these resources within their Planning and Development Districts.
The University Center began work on Oct. 1, 2023, and Goodman said an official announcement
of program activities will be released later this year. Members of the Division of
Agriculture’s University Center team include the center’s director and principal investigator,
Hunter P. Goodman; Brandon L. Mathews, extension program associate for economic development;
Tabatha Duvall, extension program associate for community workforce and economic development;
and Julie Robinson, extension associate professor of leadership development.
To learn more about the Center for Rural Resilience and Workforce Development, contact
Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Mathews at email@example.com.
To learn about extension programs in Arkansas, contact your local Cooperative Extension
Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on X and Instagram at @AR_Extension. To learn more about Division of Agriculture
research, visit the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station website: https://aaes.uada.edu. Follow on X at @ArkAgResearch. To learn more about the Division of Agriculture,
visit https://uada.edu/. Follow us on X at @AgInArk.
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.
# # #
Media Contact: Rebekah Hall firstname.lastname@example.org @RKHall_ 501-671-2061