The Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas (ARCO) continues gaining momentum in their efforts to take a proactive approach to attracting business and industry to rural west-central Arkansas. While many towns and rural communities across Arkansas continue experiencing business closures, this group is actually implementing tools to tackle the problem of a struggling global economy head-on.
During their January meeting held at Mena Mountain Resort in Mena, Ark. the group launched their new website ARCOstrong.org designed to market the region to prospective business and industries considering the mid-West.
ARCO's mission is "to lead in promoting and advancing sustainable prosperity and well-being for the people of West Central Arkansas through broad-based development including economic community, educational and leadership initiatives." Adding value to the old adage, 'strength in numbers,' ARCO's leaders and visionaries recognize that as lowly-populated areas, it is difficult to achieve success but by forming a coalition of counties building on their commonalities, "we can be much more politically relevant," said ARCO Chairman Gar Eisele. "While it is not a perfect comparison, our coalition will function much like a regional Chamber of Commerce."
The biggest stumbling block for industrial development of rural west-central Arkansas remains the incompletion of I-49. Executive Director Gard Wayt spoke during ARCO's meeting Wednesday, January 18, about the increased pressure for Arkansas to complete the "missing loop" of Interstate, that when complete, will connect three countries, Canada, United States, and Central America.
As Wayt reported to the approximately 30 regional government and business leaders in attendance, Missouri and Louisiana will successfully complete their projects in 2012 and Arkansas is feeling mounting pressure as they remain the only "missing loop." Wayt said that the completion of I49 would be the "biggest and best thing to happen to Arkansas," a sentiment now being shared by Governor Mike Beebe as he recently endorsed the I49 Coalition and their efforts to complete the 20+ year project.
With both Missouri and Louisiana seeing their completions, all eyes are fixed on Arkansas, and receiving support from Federal delegates from all of the states impacted by the incompletion of I49.
Wayt said the I49 Coalition is now seeking "out of the box" funding to complete construction as the traditional 80/20 funding is becoming "suspect." He also added that the revenue received has never been indexed for inflation, which has also had a negative impact. Wayt explained that I30 was built on a 15-year bond and as the end of that 15 years is quickly approaching, money will now be reinvested into repair on I30 and not earmarked for the completion of I49.
Buzz Garner asked Wayt if the coalition received the money today for the entire cost of the project, how long would it take to complete. Wayt estimated five years and commended the Arkansas Highway Department in their efficient ability to construct roads.
A few in attendance spoke of concerns for the state's "natural" beauty and how the construction could detrimentally impact the area's tourism industry. ARCO leaders quickly explained that they want to work collaboratively to increase the tourism industry as that is the single strongest commonality among ARCO's members, Polk, Montgomery and Scott Counties. Eisele said, "As we move forward, ARCO will continue to identify assets common to all three counties, such as tourism, and make an effort to leverage those assets to our advantage. Most recently, ARCO showed its strength when addressing ATV access to our National Forests and the impact it could have on ATV tourism. We are now discussing the lack of broadband access to our coalition area."
Founders of ARCO found motivation as the Arkansas Economic Development Commission's (AEDC) focus centered around "regionalism." Eisele explained, "As per the Governor's Strategic Plan for Economic Development, AEDC is encouraging communities to look to neighboring communities and counties as partners. The result is that we are now on the AEDC radar and if a business is interested in coming to Arkansas, and particularly in our coalition area, we will now have the opportunity to take advantage of that situation."
For now, the coalition is proud of their most recent accomplishment, the launch of the website. Eisele said there were many to acknoledge that have made the project into fruition, "Professor Otto J. Loewer of the University of Arkansas who brought us his expertise in coalition building. Professor Loewer has graciously agreed to continue on as an advistor to our coalition. I would like to thank Senator Larry Teague for his help in our obtaining a grant from AEDC to build our new website. And also, I want to recognize our website committee members: Chris Ray and Maureen Walther of Mount Ida, Sherry Johnston of Waldron, and Maureen Keese of Mena...and when you visit ARCOstrong.org, you'll see why I would like to give a special thanks to the very talented folks at 701Corp in Poteau, Okla who built our website."
Polk County Pulse