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Baldwin: strategic plan a ‘blueprint for change’
In what was called the most important gathering thus far of the Clark County Strategic Plan, Phillip Baldwin, president and CEO of Southern Bancorp, talked about the need to “dream big” for Clark County’s future.
Southern Bancorp is one of the entitites spearheading the CCSP. Baldwin spoke Tuesday night to a packed auditorium in Ouachita’s Hickingbotham Business Hall about his company’s success in rebuilding Helena-West Helena in Phillips County. That community also had a strategic development plan, and, he said, has already seen millions of dollars in new development.
Heads of various subcommittees also reported on the findings of their individual groups. A workshop, in which small groups discussed their ideas for the Clark County of 2017, was also held.
A ‘fund-raising document’
Baldwin asked participants not to worry about finding money to fund the projects they envision for Clark County. He said the strategic plan will be published later this year in a document “that will amount to a financial prospectus. It will be a blueprint for change.”
He said the strategic plan will be “a powerful fund-raising document” once it is published in July. “We will be able to present this document (to funding agencies) and say, ‘Clark County has a plan.’ You’d be surprised how easy it can be to get money once a plan is in place.”
He said that when Helena-West Helena started on its strategic plan in 2004, the community “was in far worse shape” than Clark County, “they didn’t even have a room like this for meetings.”
According to Phillips County’s strategic plan, which was endorsed by then-Gov. Mike Huckabee and U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, 46 strategic goals and 190 actionable items were identified. It involved “each of the five fundamental pillars of community life: economic development, housing, education, leadership development and health care.”
Clark County has subcommittees for each of those areas.
Three hundred residents in Phillips County participated in the plan. The committee there identified the county’s economic base as agricultural, and found that a “general decline in agriculture as a major employer, as well as the loss of numerous industrial and manufacturing jobs” resulted in the loss of more than 14,000 Phillips County residents, or more than 35 percent of its population.
One of the goals under the Phillips County plan, Baldwin said, was creating “a viable biodiesel industry. They did that. Two local residents looked at the feasibility study and said, ‘We can do this.’ It’s a $30 million project. I thought it might take 10 years, but they’re doing it.”
The biodiesel production facility, he said is being built in Taiwan and will be shipped to Helena this summer. One hundred jobs will be added to the county, Baldwin said.
Another strategic goal in Phillips County was the creation of a sweet potato distribution center in West Helena. The center would “create jobs and provide value-added agriculture by allowing local growers to supply distributors and grocery stores throughout the year.”
“It sounds crazy,” Baldwin said, “but you must have temperature-controlled storage for sweet potatoes. Gerber Baby Foods in Fort Smith has already committed to buying all their sweet potatoes.
“Each of these items was a goal they put into their strategic plan,” Baldwin said, “and when they wrote it down, they didn’t have a clue where the money was going to come from.”
The biggest change, he said, was the merging of the two Helenas as a result of the strategic plan. The two towns “fought each other, they competed against each other for jobs. But on Jan. 1, 2006, they merged. That’s a fundamental change.”
Speaking specifically about what might be possible in Clark County, Baldwin talked about possibly expanding Arkadelphia’s airport.
“We’ve got an airport, and Henderson trains pilots. What if we doubled the size of the runway? Federal Express just gave SAU a 747 – somebody at SAU was dreaming big. What if Henderson and Ouachita each had 10,000 students? What kind of cool college town would we have then? What if we helped them raise their populations? Maybe they, in turn, would help the community.”
He said it would take work to obtain financing for Clark County’s strategic plan. “You’ve got to go down that road of making it happen. You have to go get this stuff, and it is competitive out there. But we can do so much more than Helena-West Helena. Don’t limit yourselves.”
Co-chairs of the subcommittees for tourism, economic development, health care, housing and leadership reported on their findings.
Linda Eaves, on the tourism subcommittee, said her panel identified various tourism assets in Clark County and has been looking at deficits in that area, as well.
She said a comprehensive marketing plan is still needed to sell tourism in Clark County.
Her panel identified DeGray Lake and its related activities as the county’s top tourism strength, with the universities, sports facilities and rural environment rounding out the list. She suggested creating a DeGray Lake Sports and Wildlife Center that would emphasize outdoor activities.
Lonnie Jackson spoke on economic development. He said his panel created a list of the county’s economic strengths. It included I-30 access, railroads and the airport, the universities, and the low crime rate.
Available workforce and a good work ethic are also strengths, he said.
The county still needs to work on developing incentives that will help recruit new jobs. “How do we go about that?” he said.
Amity Mayor Chester Clark spoke on health care. He outlined the various strengths the county has in providing health care, including good ambulance response time, availability of specialists and Henderson’s nursing program.
He said the county needs to improve its health care services for retirees in order to “appeal to them to move back here.”
Tom Calhoon talked about housing. He said a lot of good ideas had come out of discussions on that topic, starting with a Q&A in which local realtors were asked about the affordability and availability of housing.
He said he was surprised to hear one local builder, Billy Bunn, say that city officials are “willing to work” with developers.
“We need to make the community aware that local government is showing the desire to help development,” Calhoon said.
He said housing strengths include availability of helpful lenders and favorable financing alternatives; low crime rate, and a good supply of quality builders.
He said county government needs to get more involved in the discussion, and said he wants to make sure other cities in the county are also well represented in the strategic plan.
Clark Easter, speaking on education, said his panel had talked about forming a junior ROTC at the high school to develop leadership skills in those students.
“It would use the Army to provide resources, but it would not be a means for putting students in the military. That’s a line that cannot be crossed.”
Small groups were then formed to “vision” for the county. Each group participated in outlining and describing their vision for Clark County 10 years from now.
Ed Bee, the facilitiator of the CCSP and president of Taimerica Management Company, then gathered reports from some of the individual groups and talked about the findings.
The next community steering committee meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 13, at a location to be announced.
Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University are co-sponsors of the CCSP; Wesley Kluck and Alan Wright are the co-chairs