Rural communities throughout the Arkansas Delta and Ozark regions struggle to find ways to pay for infrastructure improvements and maintenance. At least two organizations are trying to find outside of the box solutions to those problems.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service has teamed up with students from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service to identify infrastructure challenges and strategies for addressing them.
The students are seeking mayors, quorum court members and county judges in 20 Arkansas counties to participate in a brief online survey about rural infrastructure and challenges. The team will then review and compile appropriate ways to respond to those challenges.
The survey is available until Feb. 11 at this link. The 20 counties are Boone, Calhoun, Clark, Cleveland, Crittenden, Dallas, Hot Spring, Independence, Johnson, Lafayette, Lincoln, Monroe, Newton, Nevada, Prairie, Searcy, Sevier, Union, Van Buren and Woodruff.
“Rural infrastructure impacts citizens’ lives every day, from the roads they drive on to the water they drink,” said Julianne Dunn, an economic development instructor for the Cooperative Extension Service’s Community, Professional, and Economic Development unit. “The purpose of this research study is to improve quality of life and foster economic and community development in rural Arkansas through identifying specific infrastructure challenges and recommending evidence-based responses for local and county governments to undertake.”
The students also are reviewing evidence-based best practices that enhance stability in rural infrastructure in surrounding states.
The Clinton School graduate students are all pursuing master’s degrees in public service. As part of the Clinton School’s unique curriculum, students complete hands-on public service projects, including local work in Arkansas communities and international projects across the world.
“They are essentially putting into practice what they learn in class,” Dunn said. “We’re looking forward to seeing their results so we can better serve our communities.”
The students include Marlie Ball, Drew Coker, Brock Hyland and Dillon Pitts.
“Once we complete our study, we will relay our evidence-based findings back to elected officials,” Ball said. “Ultimately, we hope to identify potential solutions that can spur economic and community development in rural Arkansas that improves quality of life for Arkansans.”