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GURDON – December’s Clark County Strategic Planning session took place Tuesday night at Gurdon City Hall, in an effort to more closely involve Gurdon residents in the process.

A similar town meeting was held in Amity Monday night. Though no new information was presented at either meeting, residents were updated on the plan and told how it should ultimately result in an expanded economic base.

Ed Bee, president of Taimerica Inc., the faciliator of the CCSP, gave a slide presentation before a small group of local residents. Bee said that up to now, CCSP has been accumulating data on all aspects of Clark County – education, tourism, health, the economy, etc. – and putting this information together for the next stage of the process, which begins next month.

That stage will be called “Visioning,” and it will lead to “Implementing” sometime in July, when a final recommended plan of action will emerge.

In presenting an “assessment of Clark County as seen by an outside investor,” Bee said Taimerica has found that “quality of life, educational resources, workforce and utilities” are the county’s best assets. He reviewed the CCSP’s findings on housing issues; retail issues; workforce and training; labor constraints; jobs for “trailing spouses,” business climate, and taxes.

Each of those components had been studied for its strengths and weaknesses, which Bee reviewed again referring to information presented at previous meetings.

Reiterating many of the points that emerged from the November meeting, Bee told the Gurdon group that office employers might be an economic niche that no one has thought of in Clark County, as those employers often seek out part-time college students.

He also pointed out the coming labor shortage, not just in Clark County but nationwide, and said it was something county leaders should plan for.

He encouraged development of a “technical workforce” in Clark County, calling engineers and computer scientists the “seed corn” of technology development. “Recruiting a technical workforce is difficult in Clark County,” he said.

Some improvements have been recommended in the “business climate” of Clark County. Regulations and permitting are a strength, but the lack of building codes and building permits in the county hurts development opportunities.

“Developers want to see those permits, they want to see those numbers, and they are not available here,” Bee said.

He said the county is addressing its “lack of long-range planning” by holding CCSP meetings and trying to develop a long-term strategy for growth.

Government-business cooperation was also studied by Taimerica. According to Bee, that subject was “mentioned commonly by employers we interviewed as an issue in Clark County.” He said he was told by one employer that “the community thinks they are friendly to industry, but they don’t understand its needs.”

Specific to Gurdon, Bee pointed out several assets including its historic architecture; compact downtown district with anchor businesses; the Hoo Hoo Museum and Gurdon Light; plenty of parking in or near downtown, and adjacent residential neighborhoods.

He said challenges for Gurdon include vacant or underutilized buildings; population size; facade treatments need to be enhanced; landscaping should be redesigned to eliminate the feel of “concrete desert,” and the downtown area should be “enhanced as a place to linger.”

He also presented a map of Gurdon “strategic places,” showing the “key gateway or decision points” and attractions of the city.

Bee said CCSP will “define a vision” in January and, later, set priorities from overall weaknesses. By July, an action plan will be developed based on that vision statement.

Gurdon Mayor Clayton Franklin said he had always been concerned about what he called a “lack of leadership” in Clark County as far as unifying industry and government, and said he is interested in seeing how the CCSP “pulls all this off.”

Phil Baldwin, CEO of Southern Bancorp, spoke about Drew, Miss., which adopted a plan similar to the CCSP and saw great success as a result. “They did it one building at a time, and Gurdon is in a much better condition than Drew was in.”

One resident asked how improvements to landscaping and facades would be paid for. “Are you going to raise our taxes?” he said.

Baldwin said, “Don’t worry about the money. It will come.” He said that Southern Bancorp, as one of the sponsors of the CCSP, has been able to raise millions of dollars for a similar project in Phillips County. “In addition to being a vision statement for the county, this plan is a fund-raising document,” he said. “If Gurdon decides it wants a Target distribution center, put it in your plan. We may not get it, but we can try. I encourage you to dream big.”

The next CCSP meeting will be held at Arkadelphia High School on Jan. 16 from 6-7:30 p.m.