Paul Harvel, the new president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County, presented Monday evening an “overview” of his plans to bring more jobs and improve the quality of life here.
Harvel spoke to a near-capacity crowd in the Walker Conference Center at Ouachita Baptist University. He and his wife, Barbara, then met with community members during a social event at DeGray Lake.
Harvel will also serve as president of the newly-established Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance. Groups included in the alliance are the Clark County Industrial Council and the Arkadelphia and Gurdon chambers of commerce. The new alliance will be governed by a board of directors consisting of the same five members of the EDCCC board. Shawnie Carrier has also been hired by the EDCCC as the county’s economic development director.
Monday, Harvel spoke about the role he will play in leading Clark County and how the new alliance will market this region in select areas. He is the former president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and was also president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
After delivering an hour-long slide presentation covering everything from advertising campaigns to a project intended to begin generating leads for economic development, Harvel asked the audience “not to get too hung up on the details,” but to think about the “general overview” of his ideas.
He said he put off making a decision about the EDCCC for three months. “I didn’t want to do it unless I knew it could work.” The fact that his wife works at Ouachita made the decision somewhat easier, he said, “but that wasn’t enough. I spent a lot of time thinking about it.”
He shared stories about his experiences as a Chamber of Commerce director in Enid, Okla., Midland, Texas, El Dorado and Little Rock, stressing teamwork as the key to success.
“Despite the fact that you have a sales tax, you’ll be an absolute failure without a team effort,” he said. Last year, Clark County voters adopted a half-cent sales tax for economic development. The EDCCC was formed to administer those funds.
He said the city of Jonesboro, for example, works like “poetry in motion” because all of its economic agencies work together smoothly. “Intangibles can sell your community.”
He said Clark County has one thing going against it: “Geography.” Using slides to illustrate his point, Harvel said the county’s distance from a major metropolitan area is its biggest negative. “Then I looked at things to sell – not just how to get new industry, but things you can sell.”
He said he devised the Arkadelphia Regional Market as the main tool with which to sell Clark County. Industries and developers nationwide “don’t look at the name of the town, they look at the market,” he said. “Regional markets must be defined.”
Arkadelphia’s regional market, like all such markets, encompasses an area of 50 miles. It does not include such cities as Hot Springs, Conway, Bryant, Benton, or the other larger cities that are part of the Metropolitan Little Rock Alliance. The MLRA meets monthly, has its own budget and Web site, etc., he said.
“Yours doesn’t go as far as Little Rock,” Harvel said of Arkadelphia’s 50-mile circle. “It would be nice if it did, but you have to be honest about your region. You have to stay within the 50 miles. All those big towns market themselves under the brand name of ‘Little Rock.’ That’s a marketing word. How do you overcome the fact that you do not have a region and get the numbers and the data that you need?”
Harvel said he and the EDCCC will sell the Arkadelphia Regional Market. He said he will ask the universities for help obtaining demographics for the 50-mile circle. “We need the demographics for the entire circle. I don’t know what those numbers are, but with the demographics we can say, ‘this is our market.'”
He said a slogan has been created to sell the region: “Arkadelphia – Graduate to Good Living in Clark County.”
“You’ve got to market and sell the universities,” he said. “This is a university county.” He pointed out that alumni from both Henderson and Ouachita; supporters of the universities, and conferences and meetings involving the universities can help promote Clark County.
“That is your market,” Harvel said. “There’s not enough money in our budget to re-brand the region. People in Dallas who send their kids to Ouachita, they know where Arkadelphia is.”
He said the idea of having an alliance in the county “is the most important part. Economics knows no boundaries.”
As to how industrial prospects will be developed, Harvel said he wanted to provide “1,000 people with a lead card” containing information about Arkadelphia and Clark County. (Those attending were given cards asking for their contact information; those cards were to be filled out and mailed back to the Arkadelphia alliance.) He said it’s possible those people could develop leads on their own.
“I don’t know if it will work, but it won’t cost anything, and it won’t hurt,” he said. “Your job will be to always be thinking about how to bring some kind of business to Clark County. I’ve seen it work.”
He suggested awarding “the two or three people who brought us the best leads” at subsequent annual meetings.
Harvel identified the three places where the Arkadelphia market will be most heavily promoted: Dallas, Memphis and the rest of Arkansas. Dallas and Memphis are practical because the EDCCC’s budget can handle marketing in those cities, and because Interstate traffic makes them advantageous to Arkadelphia.
“We’re not going to go to another community in Arkansas and ask a company to pick up and move here, we’d never do that,” Harvel said, “but sometimes companies want to expand. We will certainly keep our ear to the ground.”
He said transportation is also a marketing tool for Clark County. He identified rail, I-30, and “direct flights and 18 hubs at Little Rock National Airport” as major selling points. “You start calling Little Rock’s airport your airport,” he advised.
Tourism and recreation are also tied to economic development, Harvel said. “You don’t have to build your walking trails, your lake, your trees.” Saying that most people “want to do at 4 o’clock what you can do every day,” Harvel showed a “livability” ad filmed in Clark County. The ad, which spotlighted DeGray Lake, the universities, biking trails, and other local activities illustrated a relaxing lifestyle.
“People are getting tired of cell phones,” Harvel said. “They want to turn them off after work.” He said an ad campaign called “Live like you’re on vacation” has been developed for Clark County. He also mentioned another campaign themed, “A university region majoring in recreation.” Both campaigns emphasize the brands of recreation and quality of life in Clark County.
Harvel said he will work closely with the Little Rock marketing firm Cranford Johnson Robinson & Woods. “I’ve worked with them for years and I’m comfortable with them,” he said. “I want to introduce this area to the state. You may think you are already well known, but you aren’t.”
He also introduced Carrier, who is a former employee of the Cross County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development. She will assume her duties with the EDCCC on June 30. Harvel begins work as president and CEO July 1. The EDCCC has not yet made their salaries available to the public.