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Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015

Economic development expert visits Salem

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Katherine AufderHeide, a Community Development Specialist for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, talks with Dave Russback, of K-Kountry 95, following the Nov. 30 Salem Chamber of Commerce meeting. AufderHeide said the commission is busy with business expansion and relocation inquiries despite the sluggish national economy. Photo by Richard Irby
About every weekday, Katherine AufderHeide leaves her home in Little Rock and starts driving.

AufderHeide covers a lot of ground helping 21 counties and their cities with economic development issues, as Regional Manager of Community Development for the Arkansas Economic Development  Commission.

"I just started in August, so I've been traveling all over my region to introduce myself and meet leaders in each community," AufderHeide told members of the Salem Chamber of Commerce at its Nov. 30 meeting.

AufderHeide's initial impression of Salem was favorable.

"I was really impressed to see all of the shops on the square and all of the traffic and people there on a weekday," AufderHeide. "I want to go back and explore a little bit when we're finished."

"We have more stores open on the square right now than we have had in a long time," Chamber Vice-President Holly Pate responded.

Part of the square business boom can be traced to an absolute auction last summer, in which three buildings that were vacant because of foreclosure, were sold.

Since then, a photography studio has opened in the historic Castleberry building, The Groovy Little Flower Shop has moved from the old Short's Hardware to the former Premier Furniture building and, while the former Rent-a- Center building is vacant, a new owner is seeking a tenant for it.

Other recent square activity includes a new hair salon in the building formerly occupied by the White River Area Agency on Aging. In addition, a small building next to Short's Hardware has been purchased for use as office space and Shamrock's Clothing and Accessories, which was displaced by the sale, relocated to the vacant Hair on the Square building.

"I think that is great," said AufderHeide. "I am used to seeing towns where there are mostly vacant buildings on their square and very little activity."

Despite the nation's continuing economic crisis, AufderHeide told The News the Economic Development Commission remains busy, working with communities to improve business recruitment activities and fielding a surprising number of inquiries from businesses and industries interested in expanding existing operations or relocating to Arkansas.

"We are launching a new program called PREP, the Prospect Readiness Education Program," AufderHeide explained. "We want to come to communities and give a class to leaders and business owners, so they can help us when a prospective business wants to go to an area for a site visit."

According to AufderHeide, prospective business and industry wants to meet with people in the community, as well as view a potential site to re-locate, when they come to visit. PREP will educate government officials, business owners and educators about what to say and what not to say during a site visit meeting.

For example, emphasize the accomplishments of the local school district, and talk about community college opportunities in the area, which can help train a workforce. Don't dwell on job losses or other problems. Be positive but honest.

AufderHeide is also involved in Arkansas Site Select, an Economic Development Commission web site that allows cities and counties to post photographs and information on vacant buildings and undeveloped land ready for industrial and business use.

Arkansas Site Select was how an Arkansas company looking for a new production facility found Fulton County. After a delay in establishing the local operation, the company, which manufactures packaging materials for the fast food industry, has been working on set-up for more than a month at the old shirt factory building on Highway 9 north.

Besides working to recruit new business, AufderHeide told chamber members that it is vital to keep in close contact with existing businesses and industry in a community. "85 percent of new jobs being created in Arkansas come from existing business. You need to try to keep those businesses happy."

Based on her travels, AufderHeide is optimistic about future economic development in Arkansas.

"We are an attractive state for business prospects because the state is not struggling with millions of dollars of debt, like most states are," AufderHeide said. "We have great diversity to offer, from small, rural communities to our urban areas like Little Rock and Fayetteville."

As AufderHeide prepared for her drive back to Little Rock, she said she doesn't mind all the travel that comes with her job. She is enjoying getting a close look at the state's towns and people, and getting ideas on ways she can help make the communities better.

"I plan to check out the (Salem) bakery before I leave," she laughed.

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