Development center to unveil new program to network NEA small business tourism efforts

by George Jared ([email protected]) 124 views 

Tourism is the fastest growing industry in Arkansas, and the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center will institute a program in Northeast Arkansas in 2017 to help small businesses in this sector take advantage of opportunities.

ASBTDC business consultant Kelli Listenbee told Talk Business & Politics her organization will host a series of day long programs in Northeast Arkansas towns in the next 12 months. The goal is to create advertising and marketing opportunities for many of the family owned businesses that cater to tourists, she said.

“A lot of family owned businesses don’t have the money to advertise effectively,” Listenbee said. “Many of these mom and pops businesses don’t understand that they are a piece in a much bigger picture. We want to help them pool their resources.”

The plan is to target cities throughout the region such as West Memphis, Mountain Home, Walnut Ridge, Marked Tree and others. The initial step will involve contacting local officials such as mayors, chamber presidents, and others to identify tourism-related businesses within the community. Once the businesses are identified, owners will be invited to an ASBTDC workshop. Owners, the cities, chambers, and other interested organizations will then be able to network and pool their advertising resources to create a broader pitch to tourists in the region.

For example, a town like Hardy might promote its antique shops, canoe rentals, restaurants, chamber, and other tourist businesses in one ad campaign, as opposed to all of those businesses orchestrating their own individual ad campaigns, Listenbee said. It’s similar to taking a macro regional promotion approach and applying it to the micro community level, she said.

“A lot of these communities simply do not have the money for adequate advertising,” she said. “We want to act as a catalyst.”

The goal is to have at least four day long programs in the region. ASBTDC hopes to reach or aid at least 100 businesses, according to the organization. It will also be a chance to meet with chambers of commerce, city leaders, A&P commissions, and others, she said.

An abundance of information will also be presented to the businesses. ASBTDC will provide market research and other information resources, Listenbee said. Michigan and Texas economic developers have used this technique in recent years, and it’s been successful, Listenbee said.

ASBTDC decided to take this tact beginning in 2017 after conversations with Arkansas’ Department of Parks and Tourism. Tourism is the fastest growing sector in the state’s economy. In 2015, 28 million visitors spent $7.2 billion in Arkansas, a 9% increase from the previous year; the figures could be higher in 2016.

Travelers spent $269,964,569 in the Ozark Gateway Region which includes most of NEA’s northern and western counties. It’s an 18.6% increase from 2013, according to the state. Travelers in the Arkansas Delta Byways Region, which includes NEA counties to the east and south, spent $689,041,956 in 2014, a 17.4% increase from the previous year.

The biggest problem with many of these family owned businesses is they’ve often been owned by the same families for generations and have been moderately successful, Listenbee said. Changes that spur further success are sometimes a hard sell, she said. Many of these businesses don’t have a presence on the internet or anywhere else.

“We want to do everything we can to spark the entrepreneurial mindset,” she said.