Tiffny Calloway’s life has been the tale of two cities. She grew up in Pine Bluff and was the valedictorian for her high school class at Watson Chapel High School. She had numerous options to attend college, but after a trip to Arkansas State University she decided to move to Jonesboro 15 years ago.
At the time, both cities had about 50,000 people. Since then, one has grown and thrived while the other has declined. Calloway never left Jonesboro once she moved there, and she was hired last year as the city’s community development director. The 33-year-old told Talk Business & Politics the reason Jonesboro’s population has grown by nearly 50% from 2003 to now is because of one critical element: leadership on the city and county level.
“I was fortunate to grow up with this city. … It has been amazing watching this community grow,” she said.
Her odyssey in Northeast Arkansas began during her college days at ASU. She became a student leader on campus and helped organize a debate in 2006 for gubernatorial candidates Mike Beebe and Asa Hutchinson. She later worked for both men after her college career ended.
Calloway planned to become a doctor and majored in biology. Politics appealed to her, so she approached ASU political science professor Dr. Richard Wang during her junior year and asked if she could major in political science. He told her she didn’t have enough credits toward the degree, and it would take her several more semesters to graduate. She decided to not pursue that degree, she said.
Before she left college, Calloway helped pass a resolution requiring all students to pay a $5 fee that went toward the construction of the state-of-the-art recreation center, the Red Wolf Center.
After college, Calloway sold insurance for a while, but it wasn’t appealing, she said. When then-Gov. Beebe offered her a job in state government, she accepted. She held several jobs that centered on advancement of cities and towns.
Calloway was the regional manager for community development for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission from November 2014 until March 2017, working with regional partners and communities to create programs and services that spur economic development. She built on those skills with the Delta Regional Authority, serving a three-state region as principal liaison to federal, state and local leaders on economic and community development.
GOALS FOR JONESBORO
There are several projects Calloway would like to tackle in Jonesboro. Quality of life is at the core of developing Northeast Arkansas’ hub city, but that has different connotations for different people.
Some want the city to build an aquatic center. City leaders have sought input on a center for the past couple of years. The estimated cost for a facility to meet the needs in the city falls around $20 million, Mayor Harold Perrin has said. The city owns land near Joe Mack Campbell Park, and it would be a good site for the center, he said. The center would have to be part of a public-private partnership, because the city doesn’t have the money to build it, Perrin said.
Volleyball courts, water features, a competition swimming pool, meeting rooms, concession stands and more ball fields would likely be included in the project. The Arkansas Department of Transportation is studying whether an off-ramp can be built to connect the potential center to Interstate 555. Calloway doesn’t know when the project could take shape.
Another project on which she has worked is a downtown interactive museum. It will cost about $8 million, Calloway said, adding that any museum in downtown would also have to be a public-private partnership.
The first step is to acquire a building for the museum. The city and Union Pacific have had discussions about a railroad roundhouse owned by the railroad, she said. Calloway is hopeful the company will donate the 23,000-square-foot building, but the city might consider paying for it. No financial terms have been discussed, she added.
GREENWAY PLAN, LEADERSHIP
Bike trails, parks development and other outdoor venues are part of a lengthy list of projects that would move the city forward, she said. Local entrepreneur Ted Herget has pushed to build a beltway and trails system, part of a greenway plan.
City officials are developing a master greenway plan. An initial concept for a Jonesboro bike and pedestrian plan has been developed, and a group is now charged with researching the benefits of such a plan and potentially building public support. Herget, along with representatives of city government, the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce the two hospitals and others compose the group.
A proposed beltway would loop around the entire city. It would connect downtown with ASU, Craighead Forest Park and other city points. It would have beltways to interconnect around the city. Herget believes the beltway would enhance property values along the route, promote more economic growth along its pathways, reduce traffic counts and become a powerful lure for professionals who might want to locate in the city.
All of these projects will take years before they are realized, Calloway said. One project now in process is a leadership program started by the city. The program will accept three applicants from each city ward. These applicants will visit each of the city’s 21 parks, learn how city government functions and learn about other things, such as how an Insurance Service Office fire risk rating impacts homeowners’ insurance rates, she said. The goal is to create a new generation of city leaders and to make sure citizens understand what local government can and cannot do, she said. Another goal is to bring a broader range of people to the many boards and commissions that serve the city.
“We lack youth and diversity [on boards and commissions],” she said.