Clark County leaders spoke in front of a group of state representatives and senators Monday night at the DeGray Lake Lodge about economic development. The meeting was the first of two, with a second taking place today at Henderson State University dealing with highway.
“We’re on the brink of something big, and we wanted to share with them the good news,” Dr. Johnnie Roebuck, state representative, said.
Dr. Wesley Kluck, co-chair of the Clark County Strategic Plan, presented a slide show to educate the legislators about the plan and to show that some goals have been achieved.
The population of Arkadelphia for the years 1980, 1990 and 2005 was unchanged: 10,010, and over a span of about 20 years, the population in Arkadelphia and the rest of the county declined compared to Pike and Faulkner counties. School enrollments and the labor force declined as the unemployment rate in the county increased. Even bank deposits saw a downward spiral, as there was a $38 million decrease in deposits throughout Clark County.
Kluck explained to legislators how the strategic plan was organized and how it is supposed to function.
He then shared the results that have come about since leaders and volunteers put the plan into action. A renewable task force has been formed for production of wood by-products. “We’re not talking about cutting trees,” he said, “but the residual products of wood.”
Gurdon has cleaned up 34 of about 50 houses in a clean-up project, and Arkadelphia has cleaned up more than 10. A $70,000 grant was rewarded for a business retention center.
Education in Clark County has also seen some improvements, Kluck said. A 24-hour, seven-day-a-week daycare center near the Clark County Industrial Park is being built for working parents. Ouachita Baptist University received a $54,000 grant for a “Gateway” project to make the university more visible from Arkadelphia’s main thoroughfares. Henderson State University is expanding its nursing program and building the Charles D. Dunn Student Recreational Center. Peake Elementary School received a $3,000 grant for the purchase of playground equipment and outdoor tables. The Gurdon School District is building the Cabe Auditorium.
Health care has also improved, Kluck said. Amity received an ambulance and housing for it. A physician was hired to work at a clinic in Gurdon. United Way funds the Kindergarten Roundup each year for vaccinations.
The completion of The Gardens and the groundbreaking of the Sommersett subdivisions in Arkadelphia are steps toward housing improvements.
Under the leadership goals, Kluck pointed out that a Boys and Girls Club is being researched, and the idea of the CCSP has been taken to Iraq for developing cities.
Tourism goals have also been accomplished, with the announcement of a county tourism center in Caddo Valley. A hiking and biking trail near DeGray Lake is being researched, and county organizations and leaders are helping fund the Roundabout Artist Tour in October.
The plan and its results so far have been “the most significant since 1960,” Kluck said. “This is the first time I have seen the community come together and seen universities work so closely together.”
Bill Wright, advisory member to the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County and president of Clark County Industrial Council, spoke to the legislators about the EDCCC. He gave them the “short version” of the body’s purpose.
“It’s brought us together,” he said, but with no money, no funding and no support, it is hard to bring prospective industries to the county. Thanks to the work of volunteers who came together earlier this year to speak with prospects, “we’re getting looked at.” However, he said, because of the way the EDCCC’s ordinance was written, “there is little wiggle room for projects” and securing industrial prospects to come to the county.
“I think there need to be some amendments,” he said. Under the current ordinance, the EDCCC cannot legally withhold any information about where tax funds are spent.
State Rep. Tommy Dickinson, chairman of the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development board, asked Wright about the declining population despite having two universities. “Generally, you will see development in towns with just one university. Why not here?”
Wright replied, “We’re victims of being south of Little Rock – we really don’t know … this is a great community. It’s a shame, but we did slip.”
Dickinson asked if there is any future for OBU having a forestry program, with Clark County being in the timberlands region of the state.
Kluck replied that it has been a concept, but there is no real plan in the future.
The legislators meet again today at Henderson to discuss highway improvements.