The new economic development project taking place in Sharp County will mean free training and assistance to small business owners and many local citizens.
In an effort to conquer the "last frontier" in economic development in the state of Arkansas, the Delta Center for Economic Development at the University of Arkansas is launching a county-wide program that will provide needed resources for Sharp County to progress into the new global economy, according to Jerry Smith, director of the Center for Regional and Communication Development at ASU.
According to Smith, the goal of the project is to assist the citizens and business owners of Sharp County to develop a strategy for economic development.
"Sustainability of a viable rural economic development program is one goal. Self-sufficiency in a global economy is a longer-term goal, though we hope (self-sufficiency) will become a goal in Sharp County's plans," Smith said.
As a part of the planning process, residents will be deciding which businesses and individuals will be receiving the training. Smith explained that the goal is for Sharp County citizens to make the important decisions.
"Our role is not to direct, or lead, or make decisions for Sharp Countians. Our role is to provide training, education, research and facilitation in rural economic development, and to coach those leading the process as they make decisions about strategies, priorities, timetables, resources, etc. We will also be able to assist in identifying resources, including assistance for small businesses," Smith said.
Some of the training will be on-site and technical assistance along with collaboration and project management.
A strong emphasis will be put on entrepreneurship throughout the county. Alan McVey, director of the Delta Center for Economic Development at ASU, explained at the press conference held July 23 that they will be out in the community encouraging those who have thought about opening their own business to realize it is possible and will help them understand what it takes to accomplish that goal.
"As part of our education and training, we will advocate for strong efforts with entrepreneurs and existing businesses, and provide examples of what other rural areas are doing in this regard. One ASU person on our team that will be assisting Sharp County is a professional small business developer," Smith said.
Like the other decisions, the small business developer will be utilized based on Sharp County citizen's input and decisions during the planning process, according to Smith.
Because the projects funding will only cover one year of assistance, each county will be a part of the project for only 12 months and will set a general standard for the following counties. Nine counties will ultimately be chosen to participate in the project and Sharp County is the first. The goal according to Smith is to develop an "adaptable model" for economic development for other rural Arkansas counties.
"Every county in Arkansas has a few commonalities and all are unique in certain ways, which is why we are modeling in nine different counties. Sharp County will help to show how counties who have a lot in common with Sharp County might replicate or enhance on Sharp County's best outcomes. We are building a model for rural success across the state, so we naturally want Sharp County to be wildly successful at everything it does in this project," Smith said.
Sharp County will also be assisted with a strategic partnership with at least one adjacent county that will also be chosen by Sharp County residents.
"The main point of working with at least one other adjacent county is to broaden the economic geography, to help leaders begin to plan within an economy framework defined more by economics than geo-political boundaries. Our expectation is that it will be much easier and more productive to gather data and talk with businesses in an adjoining county if that county has welcomed the effort. Whatever we do has to also benefit the cooperating county(ies)," Smith explained.
The leaders of Sharp County will be assisted in setting out standards and guidelines for the adjacent county to meet and what the goals of the two counties will be.
According to McVey, the next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 19, but the pace of the project will be determined in large part by county citizens.