Building a chorus for Northeast Arkansas

by Mayor Harold Copenhaver ([email protected]) 756 views 

As a resident of Northeast Arkansas for most of my life, I’ve watched through the years the opportunities that have come to our corner of the state that I love so much.

We’ve created a small-town quality of place that has quietly grown to a city of 80,000. Because of that, and our geography, we have a lot of pluses that we sometimes take for granted that other places would love to have. We don’t suffer droughts or wildfires. Climate change isn’t wreaking havoc. Electricity is not just available, it’s affordable.

As evidenced by last year’s breakout tornadoes, the region came together to meet each other’s needs — without asking.
We don’t live in buckle-your-chinstrap cities. Life is comfortable in Northeast Arkansas.

But we do have to sell ourselves. We have to promote what we have. And we have to make what we love appeal to those who don’t know what we truly offer.

With all this in mind, as I was running for mayor of Jonesboro, I came to the conclusion that the mayors of this region — seven counties worth of mayors — needed to band together and bond together. So once I was elected, one of my first missions was to begin a Northeast Arkansas Mayors Caucus.

We have met three times, have elected officials — chair, vice chair and treasurer — and already were visited by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who complimented our concept and said he hopes more regions do the same.

But the point is that our region when acting as a whole is stronger than the sum of the parts.

I can go west and enjoy the Spring River. I can go to The Beatles festival in Walnut Ridge. Trumann and St. Francis County sunken lands attract outdoor enthusiasts. I can go south and visit Jackson Fort State Park on the White River. I can go to Mississippi County and have a great meal in Wilson, then go to Dyess and see Johnny Cash’s childhood home, then visit the river ports of Blytheville and Osceola.

Piggott has the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center, where the famous novelist wrote portions of “Farewell to Arms” while married to his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.

Of course, Jonesboro is the regional hub, home to Arkansas State University, more than 200 restaurants and 15 hotels, and medical facilities that serve all these counties. And the way we are growing, Paragould is growing closer and closer with time to Jonesboro and is a vibrant community in and of itself.

So we need to build off the great things that all our cities have. We are gathering ideas for the bonds that tie us — setting aside any issues that separate us — and creating what I see as a powerful force for progress in several areas.

We will lobby together when seeking support of our congressional and legislative representatives on issues that pertain to us all. We can seek grants together, because we share so many mutual concerns. And the spirit of camaraderie — we all know what it’s like to have someone to turn to. We sometimes know the loneliness of not having a support system.

I think many of the mayors of Northeast Arkansas sometimes feel unheard. Not because they are ignored, but simply because a lone voice often is not loud enough to rally the troops. So we are creating a chorus in Northeast Arkansas.

We are fortunate already to have great partnerships — and leadership — among our elected officials in D.C. and in Little Rock. But state and federal government, nonprofits, and perhaps most significantly private industry and providers, are very layered. It’s almost impossible for any one city to know every resource.

My belief, the collective belief of all these mayors, is that our chorus will be heard by those who did not notice us before. And we will create more opportunities, connections and reasons to love Northeast Arkansas.

Editor’s note: Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver was sworn into his first term in office in January 2021. The opinions expressed are those of the author.