How cultural competency can aid economic development

by Frank Scott, Jr. (fscottjr@littlerock.gov) 186 views 

Editor’s note: Frank D. Scott, Jr. is a banker, state highway commissioner and a board member of the Little Rock Port Authority. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.

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Economic development is a complicated process and requires a community to work together to remain competitive on the national and global stage. In fact, just recently, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette ran a front page article that outlined the difficulty in attracting businesses and growing jobs in a time when states are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on incentives – in essence buying corporate commitments to locate in their communities.

As the Little Rock Port Authority becomes more involved in economic development and industrial recruitment, we must look at all of our options to “sell” the Port as the premiere place to do business in America. We must market our assets and facilities; we must market our workforce and our quality of life; we must market our community and our state; and we must market our ability to work with everyone.

Specifically, cultural competency helps economic development.

The recent discussions regarding the Quapaw Tribe and the Little Rock Port Authority’s proposed MOU have generated a lot of conversation. Unfortunately, the MOU’s basic premise has been lost in the dialogue. First, let me provide some background.

The Quapaw Tribe owns 160 acres of land adjacent to the Little Rock Port Authority and Pulaski County. In 2014, the tribe discovered Quapaw remains and the remains of formerly enslaved African-Americans. The Port Authority has a $10 million sales tax set aside to purchase thousands of acres on which more burial remains could perhaps be found.

The MOU was designed to build relationships and create good neighbor policies whereby the Port Authority and the Quapaw Tribe would work together to ensure that any discovered remains are preserved. The MOU was also designed to create a foundation that defined the Little Rock Port Authority as a culturally competent organization and laid the groundwork for a partnership that could help the Port Authority continue to be good stewards of the city’s assets and resources.

As an organization, we at the Port Authority must recognize that there are likely external environmental and archeological concerns on Fourche Island that will have a long-term effect on the Port and guide our expansion decisions for years to come. The Tribe’s discovery of Quapaw and African-American burial remains is an example of this.

This MOU was designed to bridge these concerns and expedite the land acquisition process. As such, an MOU would allow for more economic development while ensuring that the Port Authority returned any further discovered remains to the tribe.

Regardless of what happens with the MOU, the Quapaw Tribe is our neighbor. Quapaw people are indigenous to Arkansas, and the tribe is a landowner with all of the same rights and privileges of other landowners in the area.

The Little Rock Port Authority must never lose sight of those facts and instead continue to build a strong and positive relationship with the tribe, as we have done with our other neighbors. At the end of the day, this situation highlights the importance of cultural competency as a foundation for the kind of collaboration we need if we are to ensure that this region thrives economically for years to come.

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