Winrock International is implementing a USDA-funded program to provide training and resources for three rural Arkansas municipalities to pursue economic development opportunities and confront challenges specific to each community. The program, Strategic Training for Rural Innovative and Vibrant Economies (STRIVE), will empower local leaders in Arkansas City, Eudora and Stuttgart to advance their development goals and pursue new growth.
The grant for the project will total $250,000.
“Local leaders are on the front lines of rural economic development in Arkansas, but they often lack access to the resources and support they need to maximize opportunities and overcome challenges,” Linsley Kinkade, Winrock’s senior director of U.S. programs said. “From Lake Village to Eureka Springs, Winrock has been increasing economic opportunity across rural Arkansas for decades. We link communities with the data and resources they need to achieve their goals.”
Through USDA STRIVE, Winrock will equip local leaders in four areas. These include completing a comprehensive community assessment for economic development; supporting entrepreneurship and small business development; improving e-Connectivity and training community leaders to identify and access new funding. Winrock will use the proven train-the-trainer technique.
Local leaders will gain hands-on training and in turn they will be prepared to train citizens, business leaders and partners the same techniques. Winrock is currently working with each community to produce comprehensive economic assessments, which will inform strategic planning by local leaders and will be used to customize training and support. The assessment includes a review of retail, economic base, supply chain, employment, income multipliers and gross regional product. The assessment also includes an inventory of current assets, including population characteristics, employment analysis, business and industry, infrastructure, local government, and social and environmental assets.
Many rural communities struggle with retail business development. The local retail analysis will inform the training Winrock staff provides, helping STRIVE recipient communities to encourage small business creation and better support existing businesses. Local leaders will participate in open innovation events, engage in the regional entrepreneurship ecosystem and learn how to identify and support entrepreneurs in their communities. Winrock will assess e-Connectivity by evaluating local internet infrastructure and identifying gaps in the fiber network. A financial model will be developed to address connection gaps and pursue strategies to improve e-Connectivity.
Leaders will also be prepared to pursue funding to accomplish community goals, such as infrastructure improvements, through training on how to develop effective proposals and identify funding sources for priority projects.