Economic and Community Development
Road Reports – Part 4
I’ve 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 fourth installment of this series is from Northwest Arkansas.
Over the past few decades, few regions have experience more growth and prosperity than Northwest Arkansas. Wal-Mart’s expansion and vast supplier network has kept the region booming for years. But business leaders are now thinking about the next economic and employment engines, and they’re thinking regionally.
A strategic plan developed with Market Street Services is guiding the region’s next phase of growth. Infrastructure development (specifically roads) is a huge focus. Job centers are scattered across the region so the main artery, I-540, can get congested in either direction at any time. But quality of life and place-making issues like arts, cultural, bike trails and sports venues, are a big focus too. With the opening last year of the world class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, they’ve quickly leapfrogged many competitor regions on the arts and culture front.
With continued strength of big corporate players, anchor institutions like the University of Arkansas, a growing airport, serious philanthropic dollars, and a new entrepreneurial focus, keep an eye on Northwest Arkansas.
Road Reports - College Town, Boom Town
Road Reports – Part 2
I’ve 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 Chamber’s 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 chamber’s 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 weekend’s 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 you’re in Arkansas drop in on Brad and check the place out, just don’t expect to see him in a suit and tie.
Road Reports - Built to Last
Road Reports – Part 1
I’ve 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 first installment of this series comes from Kansas City:
Built to Last
Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza is a case study in the sustained economic viability of well-designed, well-positioned mixed used urban development. The planned, open air, retail-dining-hotel-residential project opened in 1922 but looks and feels as vibrant as the newest high end entertainment district in the country. The 15 block district was packed with shoppers and diners when I visited on a Wednesday in April. Many suburban strip malls are still suffering high vacancy rates, but the Plaza is evidence that with insightful planning, quality management and attention to trends, a retail space can weather many storms.
Lest you think KC is resting on its urban development laurels, during my visit I also saw the new 285,000 square foot glass-enclosed Kauffman Performing Arts Center home to resident organizations, the Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Opera, and Symphony. The Center is positioned to bridge downtown with the hotels and corporate offices in midtown at Crown Center – home of Hallmark’s world headquarters.
Downtown, the 8 block, Cordish developed Power and Light District, which opened in 2008, has become a destination for conventioneers, sports fans and locals alike. Sandwiched between H&R Block headquarters and a new arena, the Power and Light District is great for lunch crowds but made for weekend parties.
All across town, Kansas City is building and building to last.