Central Arkansas coalition unveils regional ‘MetRock 2020’ economic development plan

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 450 views 

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of business and community partners on Monday (April 30) unveiled a strategic plan that identifies six priorities that regional leaders hope to address to boost the metropolitan area’s economic development and job recruitment efforts.

In announcing the plan, known as MetRock 2020, Entergy Arkansas President and CEO Rick Riley said the nine-month collaboration involved a core team of 17 community and business leaders who interviewed over 500 stakeholders, sponsored several focus groups and conducted numerous surveys.

“We benchmarked against several other regions in which we competed, and we also did research and best practices from around the country to help inform recommendations on the path forward for Little Rock,” said Riley, who took over as Entergy Arkansas’ top executive nearly 15 months ago.

Besides the Little Rock Chamber, the strategic planning process was led by Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, the North Little Rock Chamber and the Economic Development Corp.

In releasing the details of the strategic plan, Little Rock Chamber President and CEO Jay Chesshir said local consulting firm Boyette Strategic Advisors came up with a half-dozen key focus areas that the regional coalition hopes to implement to attract and retain new and better jobs.

“This strategy that you are going to see is intended to provide a roadmap for continued community and economic development moving forward, as well as a rallying point for the investment which will be needed to accomplish it,” said Chesshir.

In explaining the new regional economic development initiative, Chesshir said the coalition’s strategy focused on measuring job recruitment efforts and researching ‘best practices” from other competing cities in the region and across the U.S. That research identified six key focus areas for the region, including business vitality and policy, infrastructure and product, marketing and communications, workforce and talent, entrepreneurship and innovation and community vitality.

Although the regional initiative does not have initial funding, Chesshir said capital investment will be needed to help the region continue to grow, recruit and maintain a talent workforce.

“As you can see this strategy is comprehensive and will require the effort of all of our community stakeholders,” he said.

One of the key priorities under the six-point strategic plan is a goal to grow, recruit and aggressively market specific industrial and niche job sectors to outside companies and talent as part of the business vitality and policy focus. Those sectors include advanced manufacturing, corporate operations, distribution and logistics, energy technologies, healthcare and medical, startups and innovation, and financial services and technologies, or FinTech.

Under that same priority, city leaders said efforts would be needed to support growth of the healthcare sector, address data center needs and aid the University of Arkansas at Little Rock at becoming one of the top research universities in the states.

In implementing the MetRock 2020 plan, Chesshir said regional leaders would likely be unable to complete all the goals of the strategic initiative over the next three years.

“But it certainly gets us on the road to implementation and completion so that this work can actually inform the economy that we are going to have in Central Arkansas five to 10 years from now,” he said.

James Reddish, the Little Rock chamber’s executive vice president, said the full results of the Boyette study will be completed later this week. That study was paid for by the MetRock region partners, he said.

In connection with Monday’s announcement, the Arvest Foundation announced an initial $25,000 investment to the MetRock 2020 initiative to research infrastructure and product, one of the six focus areas for the regional economic development plan. Jim Cargill, president and CEO of Arvest’s Central Arkansas operations, said bank’s investment will target research and feasibility of developing a new industrial park or sites for new economic development prospects.

“As a member of this community, and an Arkansas-based company, we are proud to do our part to help position central Arkansas as a destination of choice for new and innovative businesses,” said Cargill.

Chesshir also mentioned that the local chamber and Little Rock city officials will hold another press conference tomorrow (May 1) to announce the results of a year-long study on the impact of immigrants on the local economy.

On Wednesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and local business leaders will gather at the city’s downtown Technology Park for the annual FinTech Acceleration kickoff reception. At that event, Hutchinson and Little Rock Venture Center officials will reveal the identity of the 10 startup firms that will participate in the intensive 12-week mentoring program for early stage companies looking to breakout in the fast-growing financial services industry.

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