By Rick Kennedy, with Friday update
Citizens of Hope and Hempstead County will have both a voice and opportunity to shape the community’s future, it was revealed at a special Tuesday night session of the Hempstead County Economic Development Corp. along with members of the Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI).
Plans discussed Tuesday call for mobilizing a mass participation in a community wide survey, covering nearly every aspect of socio-economic and quality of life issues, the forming of community-led task forces, and ultimately, the formation and establishment of a comprehensive five-year plan for Hope and Hempstead County, and all happening — beginning to end — within the 2019 calendar year.
Hope Mayor Steve Montgomery said, “This is important for us; it is important to have everyone around table. We want to be as inclusive as possible.”
The AEDI’s presence Tuesday wasn’t by accident; in opening remarks by AEDI Executive Director Jim Youngquist, the group has already been active in the southwest Arkansas region, most recently assisting economic planning efforts in Little River County and Siever County, and the group has developed early successes in one of the more troubled areas in the state, Pine Bluff, which was often referenced Tuesday night.
Like those other places, the process also started with community participation in a community wide survey, and then building five or six “citizen task forces” to address certain segments of the community to then build a five-year strategic plan. The goal of being inclusive was discussed as the major priority. Youngquist said early in the meeting, “Hope is majority Hispanic and African American, while Hempstead County is still majority white.”
In addition, Youngquist, along with April Campbell, an AEDI community development specialist, who actually has ties to southwest Arkansas, advocated the inclusion of youth voices, even high school students.
“These young people are going to be the beneficiaries of the five-year plan that is developed here; they deserve to heard,” he said.
The multitiered and multistep process is to include an initial “coordinating council” of mayors, the County Judge, a Chamber representative, school district representatives, as well as representation from the Hispanic and African American communities. Campbell described as series of community meetings and the importance of the community survey itself.
The community survey will be available in both an online format and paper copies, which can be physically filled-out and turned in. The paper copy distributed to the group Tuesday is a four-page, 34-question document.
In an update Wednesday afternoon, Campbell said a live link to the survey would be provided to SWARK Today as well as distributed community-wide on Friday.
A community wide meeting was proposed for March 11 at Hempstead Hall.
On Friday, AEDI’s ACCESS community survey went live for online access. The link is: