As national anxiety from COVID-19 crept from a concerned whisper to public outcry, many places are struggling to overcome the burden of uncertainty that is now affecting our daily lives. It has stressed our nation’s supply lines, crippled our financial system, and slowed our government’s ability to implement regulatory relief. To overcome the challenges that COVID-19 presents, it will take the customized approach of local governments and their private sectors to maintain the needs of a society in crisis.
Nestled in the Arkansas River Valley sits a city of roughly 10,000 people who are working together to cauterize the Coronavirus outbreak and economic standstill that has gripped much of the country. Working hand-in-hand with a proactive community and business leaders, Clarksville has done an outstanding job thus far by providing services and information to the public with remarkable efficiency.
As of March 24th, Johnson County has yet to discover a case of COVID-19 among their population. While it is seemingly inevitable to expect it to show up in the future, it is assuring to know we are well-prepared to address that eventuality.
When the first cases of Coronavirus were announced in Arkansas, Clarksville’s Mayor David Rieder immediately closed indoor public facilities and instituted a strict sanitization program to protect the public from any communal infection. By week two, City Hall had already expanded its emergency leave policies and relaxed city codes, which are designed to ease and limit the need for families to travel outside of Johnson County.
Governor Hutchinson’s office, the AEDC, and Arkansas Department of Health have been invaluable agents in moving Arkansas forward by shoring up our response plan statewide. As new information is shared, Clarksville distributes it to the local population often within minutes of its release through social media and other outlets. That way best practices are employed quickly so families and businesses who need local, state, and national resources have access to them as soon as they are available. Much of this success is owed to the individuals in our tight-knit community who are going forward and sharing the information on their own volition.
This has been made possible by Clarksville’s tech infrastructure and video-streaming capabilities to disseminate information to the public. It is also used to hold staff meetings to manage the city’s efforts without introducing the risk that comes with large congregations. Since implementing this into their crisis-management plan, it is safe to say that City Hall can operate 100% remotely if necessary.
While the city has implemented a successful social-distancing effort following the CDC, the need to provide basic services to citizens, especially for those with an elevated health risk who are unable to leave their homes, called for a unique solution. In a matter of two days, a system was established to ensure that high-risk individuals have groceries and medicine delivered directly to their door.
This effort is being led in conjunction with Jessica Gunn at the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, churches, and volunteers. This program has also married with local food banks to ensure no citizen in Clarksville goes without their basic needs being met.
Clarksville is home to a few Fortune 500 companies who are leveraging their businesses in incredible ways to help our local population and even the country as a whole.
We look first to Clarksville’s local Walmart Distribution Center which has allocated over 1,000 hours of overtime this month alone to meet the growing demand of 160 stores and a frantic population looking to stock up on goods. Shipments have increased over 20% and all trucks have been processed on time and in full by their employees. This is an incredible logistical feat and it serves as a lifeline for communities across the country that are dependent on getting food and supplies at their local stores.
The Clarksville Tyson Foods processing plant has adopted a policy to provide products to their employees, free of charge. This is in addition to maintaining their demand for production while implementing a generous leave policy that allows employees to take leave without consequence during the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as providing them with much-needed financial resources information. Seeing as they handle food, the plant has also instituted a stricter health screening program to protect employees and the handling of their products for general consumption.
Small businesses in the Clarksville area have also done a phenomenal job of restructuring their business models to support social-distancing practices. Many of them have moved to delivery or takeout and the community has proactively shared that information to ensure all are aware of the services available to them. Recently, the city website posted a survey for small businesses that is intended to identify the issues and fill the gaps affecting businesses through social action.
Our local municipalities must remain proactive while the federal government explores ways to protect our population and to ensure our economy does not lapse into a prolonged recession.
That may take a while as governments are naturally slow to action, however, local communities such as Clarksville have done an outstanding job so far and it should be seen as an example of how other communities can move forward.
Editor’s note: Stephen Houserman is the economic development director for the city of Clarksville. The opinions expressed are those of the author.