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Open Forum: Arkadelphia Speaks
With the successful effort to pass the half-cent economic sales tax behind us, Dr. Wesley Kluck, co-chair of the Clark County Strategic Planning initiative, talked last week about where we go from here.
First of two parts
Downs: How important was the passage of the half-cent sales tax to the future of the Clark County Strategic Planning initiative?
Kluck: Some say it was critical-which to me says that if the tax had not passed, we couldn’t have gone on with the strategic planning. We could have, but the tax does give us a lot more momentum. Without it, however, attracting new industry and developing industry we already have would have been very difficult. We know what incentive money can do. From that standpoint, passage of the tax was very critical. Although by itself it didn’t solve the problems, it did give us a great tool.
Downs: What problems did it solve and what did it not solve?
Kluck: For one thing, the countywide effort to pass the tax helped us improve some of the unity problems because we had people working together for a common reason. I also think it helped to improve the trust in leadership. The lack of confidence and unity in the county was one of the biggest problems we identified in our strategic plan. But now I think we have proved that we are capable of working together in confidence and unity.
Passage of the tax has also solved the problem of needing an immediate funding source to use in economic development. I think it also boosted morale in the county. Basically, people expressed their willingness to invest their personal money through taxes into the county and they are excited about that.
Downs: Are there any signs of possible industrial development on the horizon?
Kluck: I’ve already heard that we’re getting inquiries from businesses. The tax has also solved the problem of new business and industry not even looking at us. Now that we have incentives, they are looking. Before, we were basically saying, “Come if you want to, but we’re not able to help you.” Now we’re saying, “Come on and we will help you.”
Downs: What problems did the economic development sales tax not solve?
Kluck: It didn’t completely solve our trust and unity issues. We need to be working together to select members for the Executive Board and have faith in the members. We don’t have the Board yet but we need to have confidence in whoever is appointed. We don’t want to assume the negative before we even start.
Downs: In an earlier interview with County Judge Ron Daniell, I got the strong impression that he is very open to others, such as Strategic Planning personnel and members of the CCIC.
Kluck: I sense that, too. He’s trying to do what is right and best for the county and he is planning on appointing people who have had experience in this regard. I know that if I were in his position, I would want a team of people helping me to make the best and most representative selections. One thing that has not been mentioned is that the Board should also represent those with business experience. Judge Daniell will be looking for people who will be working, positive, contributing members to that board, not someone who will just sit around and do nothing. A further check-and-balance on the selections will be the quorum court, which will have to approve the recommendations of the board.
Downs: I noticed in a news story recently that a civic club in south Arkansas is going under because most of the members were too old and the younger members said they were not interested in taking leadership roles in the community. Is this a concern in the CCSP’s master plan?
Kluck: Yes. In fact, we have one subcommittee that deals only with leadership development. A major aspect of it is developing future leaders, starting all the way down to the high school level. Training, developing and equipping young leaders who will be willing to step in to fulfill needs is a major objective. We cannot assume new leaders will emerge automatically. We can, however, ensure there is a process to help develop new leaders.
Another point about developing new leaders: They need mentors. They must observe good leadership in action. That is our responsibility.
Downs: What other problems did the sales tax not solve?
Kluck: Passage of the sales tax doesn’t mean the strategic planning process has been successfully completed or isn’t even needed. This week we will send the latest draft of the strategic plan to our subcommittee co-chairs to make sure that they have everything included in this process.
Then within a month or so, we’ll announce the plan to the public, which should build even more momentum. We’re also in the process of establishing a date for a community celebration. Originally, we had thought about doing this in the middle of July, but now it’s more likely to be at the end of July or the first of August.
Because we’re trying to get some some dignitaries to be here, we’re working around their schedules. The plan is exciting, I’ll tell you that.
Downs: I don’t want to scoop you on the details of the plan, but can you give us a hint about what it will contain?
Kluck: It’s a document that represents all the voices of the people who have attended our meetings, who have e-mailed us, who wrote letters and whom we have visited. Those who have taken part in this planning process will see something in the document that they were part of. That’s exciting! For one thing, the plan is really involved in tying the county and our two universities together.
There’s a whole lot of ways that this can happen. We keep saying that our universities are one of our biggest industries we have in this county but we never have worked together. This will be specifically addressed.
The plan also addresses the various cities and entities within the county on how we can all work with one another more effectively. This gets us back to our “unity” concerns. One of the results of the planning process is that the superintendents of the public schools in Arkadelphia, Gurdon and Centerpoint are working together and have a great relationship. All the school districts now know who is doing what. Through this plan, we’re going to see a lot more coordination and communication among the public school districts than we have seen in the past.
Contact Bill Downs: 870-246-5390 or firstname.lastname@example.org