Future economic growth is vital in maintaining the well-being of a community, according to North Arkansas Electric Coop Key Accounts Manager Hans Oliver.
Oliver made his comments June 15 after he attended an economic seminar at the North Arkansas Electric Coop in Salem.
Keynote speaker Kirkley Thomas said the focus of this seminar was to work with elected officials and community leaders to generate revenue and resources for the community.
Oliver, who is also a certified business retention and expansion consultant, said Fulton County doesn't have a clear path or "road" when it comes to economic development.
He said area residents need to recognize the importance of a concept known as regionalization.
Regionalization is the formulation of economic policies that benefit a large geographic area as opposed to a single community or county, Oliver said.
Fulton County's region includes Baxter, Stone, Izard, Marion and Searcy counties.
The North Central Arkansas Regional Economic Development, or NCARE, works in Fulton County's region.
Thomas said Fulton County and its regional partners have one of the best regional programs in the state due to the work of NCARE.
At the community level, Oliver said, communities need to begin a strategic planning process.
The goal of strategic planning is to determine what kinds of businesses are a good fit for the community and what kinds of incentive programs the local population is willing to support, he said.
Incentive packages generally include tax breaks, land and building allotments and money grants.
He said Salem lacks a strategic economic plan and the problem needs to be addressed.
He said there are three ways Salem and the surrounding areas can grow their business economy; recruit new businesses, expand present businesses and develop entrepreneurs.
"Recruiting new businesses can be very expensive, so I think we need to focus on growing the businesses in the area and develop entrepreneurs in the area," Oliver said.
Oliver compared Fulton County's current economic direction with a scene from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.
At a crossroads, Alice asks the Cheshire cat where the different roads lead. "Which way do you want to go?" asks the Cheshire cat. "Oh, it doesn't really matter as long as I..." "Then," the cat interrupts, "it doesn't matter which road you take."
Oliver said if people in Fulton County want the economy to merely sustain itself or if they want it to grow, they must chose which economic path they're willing to follow.