When people hear the words “economic development,” they think of manufacturing jobs or new industrial employers opening their doors. But it can mean much more. In Arkansas, we’re focusing our economic-development efforts on making lasting progress in our communities, especially in rural areas and in the Delta, where citizens have been underserved for far too long.

I recently attended a conference, called “Philanthropy in Rural America,” at the Clinton Presidential Center to discuss this pressing issue with leaders representing major nonprofit organizations, philanthropic foundations, and community-development groups from across the country. The conference provided the opportunity to make the case that Arkansas, with both our challenges and our inherent potential, is an excellent place for these groups to make investments toward fundamental and sustainable change.

The focus is two-fold – strengthening and modernizing communities to adapt and succeed in the 21st century, and creating the new jobs needed to sustain these efforts. These goals for revitalizing rural America mirror much of the work already underway here in Arkansas, from an emphasis on developing the new “green” economy to demanding the educational reform needed to create a skilled, adaptable workforce.

In addressing these groups, I emphasized that Arkansas is a natural fit for their investments in rural re-development. We are already creating the partnerships necessary to leverage the philanthropic dollars that come into our State; and private-sector leaders, like Southern Bancorp, have joined with institutions in our educational community, like UALR’s Institute for Economic Advancement, to develop and implement a strategic plan for revitalization in counties throughout the State.

We are also committed, on the state level, to partnering with nonprofits and community-development organizations to create future progress. From implementing our five-year plan for economic development through the Delta Regional Authority to the rural broadband initiative of Connect Arkansas, we are laying the groundwork for growth in our rural areas.

A wealth of prominent nonprofit organizations call Arkansas home: from those that focus at a local level, such as the Arkansas Community Foundation, to those of international caliber and reach, like the Heifer Foundation and Winrock International. And through the Clinton School for Public Service, we are training a pool of management-level leaders right here in Arkansas who can support new nonprofit, philanthropic, and community-development efforts – a truly unique asset that has no counterpart anywhere in the nation.

The bottom line is that investment in community revitalization is truly an investment in economic development – and Arkansas is poised and ready to compete for these dollars. We continue to put the foundation and resources in place to take advantage of such opportunities, because these investments can provide long-term, measurable benefits for our rural areas, and help us continue making progress in all of our communities. Because when our rural communities thrive, we move closer to reaching our true promise as the Natural State.