Economic and Community Development
Road Reports - College Town, Boom Town
Road Reports Ė Part 2
Iíve been burning up the airports and highways over the past month visiting multiple ACCE member chambers across several states. I never fail to take away valuable tidbits and lessons from every visit. The second installment of this series is from Conway, AR.
College Town, Boom Town
One state university and two significant liberal arts colleges are contributing tremendously to growth in Conway, Arkansas. The University of Central Arkansas graduates more health professionals every year than the state medical school and in total roughly 4,400 students graduate with bachelors and higher degrees from institutions in Conway each year. Many of those graduates are staying in town, lured by new jobs at recently located firms like Hewlett Packard. The population has more than tripled in less than 30 years and the constant infusion of recent graduates perpetuates a young, energetic, even hip feel. The chamber staff go business causal every day with an emphasis on casual.
Growth and development were evident across town as the Conway Chamberís Brad Lacy, CCE took me on a tour after breakfast on a Wednesday earlier this month. The city has launched a street-by-street sidewalk and beautification effort. Downtown is full of vibrant retail and restaurants and there is a large new mixed use retail-housing development going up near one of the college campuses. Yes indeed folks, there are places in the country where new home construction is still happening.
The Conway Chamber is going strong too. The chamber, economic development, and convention and visitors bureau are managed and staffed like a single entity. A separate downtown council is also housed in the chamberís recently renovated downtown building. In addition to their impressive economic development successes, advocacy is also a strong focus, particular on shale gas related interests. The Chamber netted impressive sums from their annual meeting and grossed more than $1 million on last weekendís Toad Suck Daze, an annual festival that supports scholarship funds.
Conway is a model example of a smaller community focusing on and building from key assets. If youíre in Arkansas drop in on Brad and check the place out, just donít expect to see him in a suit and tie.