By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
Hundreds of high school seniors and juniors from eight Southwestern Arkansas counties converged at Hope’s Hempstead Hall on Thursday, meeting potential employers, scoping prospective career paths, and learning about higher education opportunities.
Sponsored by the Southwest Arkansas Development Alliance (SADA), the first-ever event aimed to accomplish a couple of objectives, according to Prescott’s Mary Godwin, the economic development director in Nevada County and one of the principals of the event, said “This was an idea that we came up with. We were hearing this from our employers that we currently have that we need to work with these young people and start promoting the fact that we have great paying jobs in southwest Arkansas and that you can make a good living and career right here at home.”
Godwin said many area young people wanted to continue to live in southwest Arkansas and not have to leave or go far away to colleges or universities, and she added that some high school students were not necessarily interested in four-year colleges, but wanted something to train in, so they could go straight to work.
“We want to showcase the businesses and industries that we have and educate these kids on what is here,” she said.
The focus was primarily high school seniors and juniors, and she said about 30 booths and exhibits featuring employers, recruiters, and various universities were present.
From Prescott, the Firestone plant, the Bank of Prescott, and FlyWheel Pies were among the employees with a presence at the event. Several students were Prescott High School had made the short trip down to Hope as well.
“We want students to think about a ‘career,’ not a just a ‘job,’ and we want to educate the kids on the opportunities, but we also want to promote southwest Arkansas as a great place to do business,” Godwin said.
An estimated 800-to-900 students visited Hempstead Hall throughout Thursday morning and into the early afternoon. Hempstead Hall Director Amanda Lance said the various schools and students were brought in shifts for sessions, a couple hundred at a time.
“We received a great response from both the employers and the students,” Lance said afterwards. Lance herself was helping with the mid-afternoon lunch buffet that was setup in the hospitality room for the employers and exhibitors after the students had gone through. Afterwards, there was a general session for members of the general public to visit the same employers and recruiters.
With UA Hope also being a part of SADA, the university itself was part of the event planning from the start, including Lance at Hempstead Hall.
“From the get-go, we were on the planning committee, and this was planned out to an inch of its life. The committee did a great job, and I thought it ran very well,” she said.
Lance said the first school buses rolled in at 9 a.m. followed by subsequent businesses at the start of each hour up until 1 p.m.
“It was about 200 or so every hour as we were cycling them in,” she said.
Hope, the hosting city, was also well-represented. Hempstead County EDC Director Steve Harris is also this year’s President of SADA, and several familiar employers, like New Millennium, Tyson, Rainbow of Challenges, the Hope Police Dept., and Pafford EMS had booths or exhibits.
Regional outfits like Texarkana’s Express Personnel, Manpower, and Armed Services recruiters were also on hand for the event as were state agencies like the Arkansas Dept. of Education.
The university itself, University of Arkansas at Hope Texarkana, also had a booth, and it had good company as the Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia had a representative, and an enrollment team from the state’s flagship university, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, also traveled to Hope for the event.
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor