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From left, Dr. Stan Miller, superintendent of Arkadelphia schools; Carlos Zamudio, Scroll/DANFOSS; and Phil Baldwin, CEO of Southern Bancorp, listen as U.S. Rep. Mike Ross makes a point Thursday morning at Ouachita Baptist University. Ross was in Arkadelphia to meet with co-chairmen of the subcommittees of the Clark County Strategic Plan, which he endorsed. Photo by Donna Hilton

U.S. Rep. Mike Ross has endorsed Clark County’s Strategic Plan and promised to do whatever he can to help accomplish the goals listed in the plan. “I want to be your partner on the federal level in implementing this plan,” he said.

Ross met with co-chairmen of the subcommittees at Ouachita Baptist University Thursday to hear about the plan, and said it shows that members of the community want to see positive change. “Things that happen in a community have to do with local leadership or the lack thereof,” he said.

The plan is one of the best he’s seen, Ross said, because all residents of the county were involved in the development of the plan.

Now the test will be to successfully implement the steps of the plan, he said. “I can’t do it for you.”

Ross pointed out several goals and action steps of the plan that will mean growth and progress for Clark County, such as the expansion of the aviation program at Henderson State University. “I think y’all know what a jewel that is.”

He stressed the importance of education. He said he was especially pleased that a range of goals for students of all ages were a part of the plan. The plan lists steps to provide better programs for pre-school children, including a pre-school center for children of employees of industries in the Clark County Industrial Park. The center would provide care and instruction for children 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

An application for grant funds to operate the center awaits approval from the Department of Health and Human Services. “Can you help us out with that?” Phil Baldwin, CEO of Southern Bancorp, said to Ross.

Ross said that he would be happy to check on the status of that grant. “Anytime you have an application in, let me know. I would be glad to write a letter of support,” he said.

The education portion of the strategic plan includes more vocational and technical training for students who do not wish to go to college. Ross said he was “really glad” to see the alternative training programs. He cited the need for training students to do jobs “that can’t be shipped to India.”

The implementation of the CCSP will be of great value in attracting more businesses and industry to Clark County, Ross said. There are three major steps to economic development. The first is to “go after the big factories,” he said, which would employ large numbers of workers.

The second is to continue to work with existing employers to retain and expand the number of jobs. So many times, a business is ignored after it is in existence for a few years. “We work really hard to bring them here, but then we tend to forget about them,” Ross said.

The third component of economic development is to court small businesses, he said. He cited efforts such as HSU’s Small Business Development program as a great tool for bringing small businesses to Clark County.

Ross also told those in attendance of some of the problems he’s dealing with on behalf of his constituents. He cited the lack of money for highway improvements as a major example. When he was first elected, each congressman was given $22 million dollars for highway improvements in their districts. While he appreciated that amount, he estimated that the Fourth District of Arkansas could use $4 billion to improve highways.

Highway funding has now been reduced to less than $2 million in each district because funding has been diverted to other projects, such as the war in Iraq. “We’re spending $16 million an hour in Iraq,” Ross said. Although he supports the war against terrorism, he said he is concerned with the effects of spending so much overseas and not in the U.S. “We’ve got to start investing in America again.”