The Arkansas Economic Development Commission announced Wednesday (Oct. 24) that Newport and Paragould have completed the Competitive Communities Initiative evaluation that aims to ensure their preparedness to successfully compete for jobs and investments.
The program is designed to identify ways a community can be more competitive with regard to economic development organizational structure, economic development funding, workforce, and product readiness.
“Paragould has been a part of community development programs in the past, but this initiative is different in that it has made us take a good hard look at not only our community strengths but also our weaknesses,” said Sue McGowan, director of economic development, Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce. “By providing insight on how we can reduce those weaknesses – and hopefully turn them into strengths – we feel that Paragould is now better equipped to compete for economic development projects.”
Best practices in the field of economic development were used to determine the standards for the Competitive Communities Initiative. A structured and funded economic development organization is imperative, whether it’s focused on a particular town or a whole county, with a strong chamber of commerce partnership. Additionally, there must be a skilled workforce ready to fill jobs and a pipeline of ready workers in the future. Finally, sites should have appropriate infrastructure fit-for-purpose, according to the size of the community and targeted industries, or a plan to provide utilities to the site.
The evaluation for a particular community begins with a commitment to complete within 45 days an initial questionnaire detailing existing workforce, available and shovel-ready sites, funding sources and information from the community’s economic development organization.
A team of evaluators within AEDC and its partners uses the information to help communities better understand any gaps or weaknesses that could negatively affect economic growth.
“We believe that Newport has the pieces to be a great location for new and expanding businesses and Competitive Communities helped us make all of those pieces fit so that we can complete the puzzle,” said Jon Chadwell, Newport Economic Development Commission executive director.
Communities that meet the standards of the initiative will be featured throughout AEDC marketing efforts. Competitive Communities in Arkansas must undergo a re-evaluation every two years to maintain their designation.
“We’re happy to recognize Paragould and Newport, along with their economic development professionals and stakeholders, for completing the process,” said Mike Preston, AEDC executive director. “These communities will be better positioned to win expansion and new location opportunities.”