Former KAIT anchor hired as communications director for Jonesboro Unlimited; Downing selected as VP

by George Jared ([email protected]) 3,033 views 

Downtown Jonesboro.

Former Director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development Mike Downing has been named Jonesboro Unlimited’s Vice President for Economic Development. The group has also selected former KAIT lead anchor Craig Rickert as its director for communications.

“Mike and Craig are a great fit for Jonesboro Unlimited. Mike’s experience in economic development will help us continue to grow through attracting new businesses and expanding established companies. Craig’s skills as a communicator are well known throughout this part of the state. With his talents on board at Jonesboro Unlimited, we look forward to telling our story that Jonesboro has the workforce and infrastructure to bring in new, high-paying jobs,” said Jonesboro Unlimited President Mark Young.

Downing has 35 years of experience in economic development. Under Downing’s leadership, Missouri was rated the top economic development organization in the United States in 2014 by Pollina Real Estate, according to JU. Downing was also crucial in working with international auto executives at Ford and GM to help revitalize the auto industry in Missouri. His efforts helped to double the state’s auto plant employment from 2010 to 2016.

“Jonesboro and Craighead County are primed and ready to continue to develop economically. Jonesboro has the infrastructure and educated workforce to continue to be a driving economic force in Northeast Arkansas and regionally as well,” Downing said.

Downing is familiar with Northeast Arkansas. He has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Missouri and a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas State University. During his time at ASU, Downing was a placekicker for the university’s football team. He was a member of the undefeated 1975 squad, the last ASU football team to go undefeated.

Rickert was the lead anchor at KAIT-TV in Jonesboro for 15 years. In his 25-year television career, Rickert won two Emmy awards and was honored several times for his anchoring and reporting in both news and sports by the Associated Press. Rickert has lived in Jonesboro for 15 years and serves as the Chairman of Crimestoppers of Jonesboro.

Jonesboro Unlimited was formed in 1986 to advance economic development in Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas. About 100 local businesses joined to create the organization and it came at a time when food processing was identified as a good fit for the region. It is part of the Jonesboro Economic Development Corporation (JEDC), a non-profit organization.

Downing and Rickert will start work in the midst of the organization’s most ambitious economic development project in years.

Jonesboro Unlimited started its fundraising drive, “Momentum Jonesboro,” to attract 2,500 direct jobs, and 2,600 indirect jobs to the region. The goal is to create jobs that pay at least $42,000 per year. It raised about $3.7 million to execute the five year job development plan.

In 2015, local officials developed a five-year plan to raise earnings. Avalanche Consulting was hired to study economic factors in the region. The study revealed developers needed to focus on agriculture, logistics, high-end manufacturing, healthcare, and professional services businesses.

Food manufacturers are still a natural fit because several, including Frito-Lay, already have operations in Jonesboro. Water and wastewater processing, key elements in food manufacturing, are plentiful in Jonesboro and the city offers competitive electrical rates.