Arkansas Inc. Podcast - Economic Development Week

 May 04, 2020

In this episode of the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, our Executive Vice President of Global Business, Clint O'Neal, discusses Economic Development Week with three of Arkansas' economic development professionals.

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Transcript

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast, where we discuss the latest topics and trends in economic development with subject matter experts and influencers from across the nation and around the world.

Clint O'Neal:

Welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. My name is Clint O'Neal. I serve as the Executive Vice President of Global Business for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Now you might be expecting us to talk about the coronavirus pandemic today. After all, that seems to be the only thing anyone is talking about these days. We're not going to avoid the topic, but the focus of today's episode is Economic Development Week.

Clint O'Neal:

Governor Asa Hutchinson recently proclaimed the week of May 4th through 9th as economic development week in Arkansas. The International Economic Development Council created Economic Development Week in 2016 to increase awareness of local programs that create jobs, advance career development opportunities, and improve the quality of life in communities everywhere. So today we want to focus on and celebrate the profession of economic development. And yes, we'll also talk about economic development in the crisis of the corona pandemic today.

Clint O'Neal:

I'm joined today by three of the top economic development leaders in the State of Arkansas. Shelley Short is Vice President of Programs and Partnerships for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce based in Little Rock. Mark Young serves as President and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce and Jonesboro Unlimited. Tim Allen is President and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Clint O'Neal:

Shelly, Tim, Mark, welcome to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast.

Mark Young:

Thanks, Clint.

Shelley Short:

Thank you. Thanks, Clint.

Tim Allen:

Thanks, Clint. Glad to be here.

Clint O'Neal:

Let's talk about economic development by taking a brief look at the history of the organizations that we work for. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission got its start in 1955 as the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, following a 15 year period of population decline in the 1940s and early 50s, AIDC played a significant role in reversing this trend as our founding chairman, Winthrop Rockefeller, was instrumental in recruiting 600 companies and 90,000 industrial jobs to Arkansas over about a 10 year period.

Clint O'Neal:

But compared to you guys, we're the new kid on the block. The Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1888. The Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1915 and the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and associated industries was founded in 1928.

Clint O'Neal:

Tim, that makes you the old man in the room, organizationally speaking, of course. Can you give us some insight on the foundation of the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce and its role in economic development over the past 132 years?

Tim Allen:

Yeah, so Mark and Shelley, no inserting of jokes there. So yeah, Clint, thanks again for allowing me to be here today. So a group of businessmen and women in Fort Smith in the 1887, 1888 got together and said, "Look, in order for us to change the trajectory of Fort Smith, we need to organize and we need to put together a group of business folks to go out and recruit companies to the Western edge of the U.S." Back in the day we were the Western edge of the country. So they did. And that's how the chamber, as everyone in Fort Smith refers to it, the chamber started back in 1887. We've been around the block a few days and it's great to be the old man in the room today I guess.

Clint O'Neal:

All right, thanks Tim. We'll see what Mark and Shelley have to say about the chamber. So Mark, same question for you. What do you think the founders of the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce had in mind with regards to how the chamber would facilitate business growth in the region?

Mark Young:

Yeah, similar to Tim's story, leadership in Jonesboro was really committed to making sure that the community continued to grow and prosper and they came together really to improve the quality of life of our community and the citizens that live here. That purpose is similar today. If you look at our purpose statement from when we started over a hundred years ago and look at our purpose statement, our mission statement today, they're virtually the same. We do our work a little bit differently than we did a hundred years ago, but that purpose of helping our community grow and thrive continues today just as it did a hundred years ago.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks, Mark. Shelley, we're celebrating economic development week while we're in the middle of this unprecedented season during the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is it still important for us to recognize this week in spite of the current situation?

Shelley Short:

Thanks, Clint. Before I kind of get started into Economic Development Week, I just wanted to thank you and Mike and everybody at AEDC and the Department of Commerce for the long hours that you guys have been working to ensure that Arkansas businesses have a future, and you guys have shown exemplary leadership. The governor has been a stellar leader in this area and helped to guide us in these unusual times. So, I just want to say thank you first of all for taking this on and for working the long hours that you've been doing. So thank you so much for that.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks, Shelley.

Shelley Short:

So Economic Development Week as you mentioned, occurs the first week in May and it was set up by the International Economic Development Council. And basically when I started planning for this week, I really had no idea that a global pandemic would be in any of our plans. But one of the best traits of an economic developer is the ability to adapt and be agile. And thankfully we'd already reached out to the governor, and he, because of his passion for economic development had already issued the proclamation declaring this week as Economic Development Week. So the logistics part was done.

Shelley Short:

But you know, while I wish all this COVID stuff was not happening, and it's a very serious thing that's happening in our economy. But that just makes me think of, I can't think of a better time to recognize the day-to-day work of economic developers in their community. Most of the time, a lot of that time, it goes unnoticed and it's way beyond what people normally think of. When they think about economic development, they think about recruiting and announcing a new facility in their community. But day in and day out economic developers are serving in chambers of commerce, municipal governments, utilities, state agencies, higher ed, private industry. I mean, you name it, there's probably someone on staff that could be described as a volunteer or professional economic developer.

Shelley Short:

So, I just think now is a great time to highlight all of the things these individuals do day in and day out as part of their regular normal job. It just happens to be highlighted right now during this unprecedented crisis. And these individuals are on the front lines, convening people, connecting folks to resources, thinking about how they can be a catalyst in their community for change and progress and are really championing the business and community development concerns in their community.

Shelley Short:

So Tim and Mark, you've got two of the best in the state. They get it. And more than that, they do it. And so I think now is just a great time to talk about why economic development is important and it's important to have a passion for it. And I'm so thankful there's so many people in the state working hard to make things happen.

Clint O'Neal:

Great. Well, this next question is for everyone, but Shelley, let's stick with you.

Shelley Short:

Sure.

Clint O'Neal:

Tell us a little bit about your story. Why did you choose economic development as a career field and what do you like most about it?

Shelley Short:

Well, I wouldn't really say that I set out to choose economic development as a career field. I think that a lot of people find themselves in this role either through their various life experiences, the way that their paths converge and they maybe fall into the role. I started working at what was called them, the Arkansas Department of Economic Development back in 2006. And basically I went to work there in a part-time administrative capacity. I was looking to work part-time so I could be home with my daughter more and applied for a job to work as a support person in the director's office.

Shelley Short:

Basically got introduced to the way that the entire agency worked, fell in love with the mission of economic development and the fact that when we had job announcements in communities, you could see how that made a difference in that local community to be able to provide jobs. Even though I wasn't directly involved in that, I just felt proud to serve on that team that was helping to make that happen.

Shelley Short:

Time progressed and I was able to move up in the agency. And when I left there, left as the director of marketing, had a lot of great experiences, met a lot of great people, learned a lot. I really probably knew maybe 1% about economic development if you can say that and maybe I know about 20% now because it's so all encompassing.

Shelley Short:

But I think that'd be just kind of in a nutshell kind of what my story is. I ended up at our state chamber of commerce, which is a governmental affairs organization and I get to manage the state association of Economic Developers & Chamber Executives. And I guess if you asked my most favorite part, it would be helping to provide our members, which are mainly local economic developers and chamber professionals, with the tools they need to be able to do their job and to give them the professional development opportunities that can help them create opportunity in their community.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks Shelley. Certainly some great memories back when you and Tim and I worked together at AEDC when Tim picked up the nickname Cat Baby. So Tim, we'll turn it over to you.

Tim Allen:

Yeah, that's funny. Yes, that nickname will be there for a long time.

Clint O'Neal:

Tell us a little bit about your economic development story.

Tim Allen:

Yeah, like Shelley said, I don't know that anyone sets out to, "Hey, I'm going to grow up and be an economic developer." I don't know if that ever happens. It certainly did not happen in my case. So just kind of stumbled into the job. I've have always loved selling, especially when you have a superior product. So, selling the state of Arkansas is a pleasure. And so back in the day, when I was at the state, selling the state of Arkansas was fun and using that competitive edge against the competition, which is everyone else in the world, that's the competition. It was always a lot of fun.

Tim Allen:

So I had a great career at AEDC and so landed a few cool projects and had the opportunity just I guess about nine years ago, working in all over the state. Leaders in Fort Smith called me and asked if I would entertain coming to Fort Smith and running their chamber, which the chamber of Fort Smith, it also does economic development. That's really our focus and the reason we were created. So, I knew Fort Smith well. I've been over here successfully, landed several big projects when I was at the state here. So there was no surprise. I thought it was an honor to be asked and they made me an offer that I couldn't refuse. And so I've been here almost nine years and we've done well.

Tim Allen:

We're competing on a global scale and it's a fun business. I love the competitive nature of the business. I really love negotiating. That's my passion, so it feels good when you have a great product. And back in the day it was a state. Now it's the entire Metro area of Fort Smith. So I'm selling one big economy here in the Metro area. It's been a great time and a great job and I really enjoy it. So it's always good to partner with the state. And I agree with Shelley, at the end of the day when you have great leadership in Little Rock from the governor's office and Mike Preston and Clint you guys at commerce, it really makes the job easier. It's not an easy job, but that definitely makes the job easier when you have the leadership in Little Rock that understand it, that get it, that want to do it. So, I'm not by myself. I know I've got partners in, so it's a great job to have. I really enjoy it. So that's how I feel about it.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks, Tim. Mark, how about you? Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you love about this profession?

Mark Young:

You bet. I got started right out of college. I was looking for a job and had not been successful as of yet finding one. And my Dean of the College of Communications actually recommended me for an economic development position. I went for an interview. And long story made short of, I got the job in Wynne, Arkansas. I started my career with the Cross County Economic Development Center, and thankful that I had the chance and appreciate the opportunity I got early on in my career.

Mark Young:

From there I worked with the Small Business Development Center in Forrest City, Arkansas, East Arkansas Community College. Was in Miami, Oklahoma for six years and then moved to Rockingham, North Carolina and was responsible for economic development groups in all those locations. And in 2000 I moved back to Jonesboro, and went to work for my alma mater, Arkansas State. And was so excited to be back in our hometown and our community and have the opportunity to work in a career field that I just absolutely love.

Mark Young:

14 years ago I came to work at the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce and have loved every second of it. But like Tim and Shelley, there's parts of the job that I absolutely just ... Kind of it's what I'm most passionate about. And that is the competition as Tim mentioned is something that I absolutely love. The other part of it is, when you're in your community and you've been part of a positive location or a business expansion or helping a small business, there's a great sense of satisfaction. You don't do it alone. There's a great group of team members around you working with you at the state level, at the local level. But there's a tremendous sense of pride when you have that opportunity and you know people have good jobs because of the work that you and others have done. So I love this profession, love the opportunity, and look forward to several more years in it.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks Mark.

Tim Allen:

Hey Clint, real quick. Mark touched on a great point. You know, what's really gratifying and satisfying for me is when you're able to secure jobs for people that you'll never meet in the community. We do all these big mega projects and people get jobs and they go to work and they feed their families. For me it's very satisfying to know that I played a part in someone else's life and I'll never meet those individuals.

Clint O'Neal:

That's right.

Tim Allen:

But it feels good to do that.

Clint O'Neal:

Yep. A good note.

Tim Allen:

It really does. It feels great.

Clint O'Neal:

So Mark and Tim, a question for both of you. You obviously both come from communities, Fort Smith and Jonesboro that have a great leadership team, great infrastructure around the community. We often say that economic development is a team sport. Who are some of those key players on your team locally? And how do they play a role in economic development? Tim you want to take that one first?

Tim Allen:

Yeah. So the team here in Fort Smith, I'm structured a little bit different maybe than others. Maybe not, but it's, so we are a 501 C (6) organization. We do not public funds to operate. So really my team is my board and the members of the local chamber. So they financially support the chamber and they allow me to do the things that I do. So a lot of local team members, and I know I'll forget something as we talk about them. But obviously the mayor's office, the city administrator, the County judge, the people who are in that government role that can affect change, positive change in the community, whether it's policy or just being open and welcoming to new business. Those are the upper, I guess the government team members that I work well with.

Tim Allen:

But also just the large, small and large, company leadership. It's people are willing to just give and donate, volunteer their time in Fort Smith to be part of something that's larger than themselves. And that's in every community I guess, but especially is here. So if I start naming names, I'll forget someone. So don't ask me to do that. But, so that's the local team. Just a lot of good volunteers, a lot of people who financially support what I do, and help me achieve those goals. Just having that local support is vital. But also, as I mentioned earlier, the governor's office, governor Hutchinson is the job's governor. He's kept this state in fiscally responsible.

Tim Allen:

We have balanced budgets and we continue to have balanced budgets. That's important when you're incentivizing companies and you're showcasing a state and a community of why we are the place you need to be as a company. If you're going to spend 20, 30, $50 million in a community or a state, you have to make sure that they're responsible. And so it's really good to have a governor that understands economic development, of course Clint and you and Mike Preston, your team gets it totally. So you have to have the local team as well as the state team. And then the one more, the final level would be the delegation in Washington. We're very fortunate in this state to have a Washington delegation that supports all of us. So it's multi-tiered. It definitely takes a team. So, no one person or no one entity can claim credit to the success in this state and or Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks Tim. And Mark, I know that you would have a similar answer in describing your team. Anything that you would add to that concept of economic development as a team sport?

Mark Young:

Yeah well, 200 team members for us, and I agree with Tim in those that he described. Our city and County are tremendous to work with. Our mayor, County judges and their respective staffs have been fantastic and are big supporters of economic development. A couple more that I would add to that is City Water & Light here in our community. So utility company, and they provide electricity, water and wastewater. They've been an economic development partner of our organization that way predates me, and have been supportive of our economic development efforts. Their infrastructure and their investment in infrastructure in our industrial park and just in the community in general really gives us a leg up oftentimes on the competition. So they're a tremendous partner of ours.

Mark Young:

And then Arkansas State University. Having a university here in our community is a tremendous asset. And obviously again, in terms of a partner they're tremendous. They provide a lot of assistance to us in a wide range of activities, whether it's workforce development activities and assisting us with many different projects. They've been great to work with as well. So I'll add to Tim's and add those too, but similar to him, we're glad to be part of that whole process and part of the team.

Clint O'Neal:

Excellent. Well, let's talk about some of the companies that really make our economy great. We've read some incredible stories about businesses around our state that have gone above and beyond to keep their operations running, keep employees on the payroll and help folks in need during this COVID-19 pandemic. Mark, let's stay with you. What are some of those heroic efforts that you've witnessed from businesses in Jonesboro?

Mark Young:

Yeah, I'll describe a couple. We had one local business person, Joe Clay Young, who actually received national attention when he went to a couple of his restaurants that rented space from him downtown and said, "Don't worry about paying me rent this month, you guys need to keep doing what you're doing," when he realized the impact that COVID-19 was going to have on their business. And we've seen countless examples of generosity of selflessness from individuals and from businesses in our community over and over.

Mark Young:

Also one of the things that I've really appreciated is that we've got great companies here. Just like there's several others that Tim will mention as well. But one of the things I have greatly appreciated about our companies is they've been willing to share information and share data and best practices. So one of the things that we really focused on early on is identifying what kind of resources they were using. How they were handling certain situations, and then getting their buy in and okay to share that information of data with all of our manufacturers. And we did. And that really has helped many of our companies better understand what works and maybe what doesn't work.

Mark Young:

And then the other thing is just the generosity that our companies have had. We've had several major contributions to the food bank to United Way, and to other organizations who are providing resources in our community for those impacted by COVID-19 as well as the tornado that was here as well. And again, I can't say enough about our business community and how philanthropic people are, so I'm proud to be in Jonesboro for sure.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks, Mark. Tim, anything you'd like to highlight in Fort Smith of those companies that have run to the fire when it comes to COVID-19 pandemic?

Tim Allen:

Yeah, I would add to Mark's comments. Obviously our frontline workers, the both Baptist and Mercy Hospitals, the healthcare providers many times are the unsung heroes in economic development. They employ thousands of people and pay just above the average wages obviously in the healthcare industry. But you know, they are front lines that have been facing this every day. And so we're grateful to have them and all the things that they do, the doctors and the nurses and all the healthcare providers, you know? A couple of real quick think on your comment, Clint, about the who ran towards the burning building I guess in this unprecedent times would be a couple, I want to highlight a couple of companies, Pernod Ricard, a French based company here in Fort Smith, known for manufacturing Kahlúa and other spirits.

Tim Allen:

It was national news just a few weeks ago. They decided to start manufacturing because of COVID-19 hand sanitizer. And they had all the ingredients there at the manufacturing company here in Fort Smith, Pernod Ricard. And they started making it by the 50 gallon drum and wanted to do something and make a difference and began shipping that to New York and the places in the country. And obviously they want to ship it here to the people in Fort Smith that needed hand sanitizer. And so just really a cool company that stepped up and said, "We're going to do something and we're going to do something now." And they started manufacturing that, and of course my nature was, "Okay, what other companies do I have?"

Tim Allen:

So immediately reached out to an injection molding company that's located here in Fort Smith, River Bend, the old Quantum Plastics, but River Bend and Ron Embree said, "You know what, I'll step up. We have a plastic bottles, we'll bottle the hand sanitizer that Melissa Hanesworth at Pernod Ricard's making. We'll put it in bottles and we'll give it to our local hospitals." That was really awesome to see.

Tim Allen:

And then one a third and final company that really stepped up was PRADCO, a company in Fort Smith that has been there since the early 60s that have been making fishing lures for outside outdoor entertainment. They stepped up and say, "You know, we have really cool engineers and we have CNC machines and 3D printers. We're going to make face shields using those, our engineers and using our technologies." And again, they stepped up and made those things and gave them to the frontline workers here in Fort Smith. So, using the 3D printing and CNC machines. So it was really cool. They made hundreds of them in just a few days and really made a difference I think. And a lot of people appreciated that very much.

Clint O'Neal:

That's great. Well Shelley, I'm coming to you with the next question, but is there anything you'd like to add about these great companies around the State of Arkansas that have stepped up and done great things during this time?

Shelley Short:

Well, I mean there are definitely a lot of private industries that have stepped up. You've got Tyson donating millions of pounds of food to people in need. You've got Walmart that has opened up drive through testing sites. I know they've got one in Northwest Arkansas, they're opening one in Little Rock, and I just saw they're opening one in Fort Smith soon. You've got, as Tim mentioned, the distilleries that are making hand sanitizer, American Vinyl in West Memphis, they made tablecloths and things of that sort and they've kind of retooled to make face mask and gowns. And we've heard of logistics companies through the state chamber offices that have been helping to move freight around in ways that are outside of the norm of their normal business just so that people in our state and around the country can get the necessary supplies that they need.

Shelley Short:

I would have to give a shout out to our local chambers and economic development organizations for the work that they have been doing to communicate with their members to make sure that their members know about the programs from the Federal and State Governments. To make sure they know that those chambers and economic developers are there for those businesses. I've heard of countless people that are literally, I mean economic developers that are literally helping walk their members through various applications for different things. They've been listening to their needs and concerns. I think Gary Troutman in Hot Springs has pretty much dined at every restaurant there and is trying to make everybody aware of that.

Shelley Short:

You've got chambers and economic development groups setting up small business support sites, either on Facebook or trying to direct people to shop local and re-energizing those campaigns. And even some mayors and others have been helping to provide, help source PPE for their healthcare workers just like Tim mentioned the private industry doing. So I really want to give a shout out and a plug to our local chambers and economic development groups that have been working diligently to make sure that their members and people in their community are taken care of.

Clint O'Neal:

That's great. Thanks Shelley. Let's talk a little bit about what's next in economic development. Let's talk about building up our pipeline for getting people interested in a career. Shelley, what advice would you have to students who are considering their career options? Is now a good time to be an economic developer?

Shelley Short:

I definitely think so. You know, economic development, it's pretty far reaching. It touches on a lot of different things that maybe you wouldn't necessarily think of. I mean, economic development touches on education. It touches on workforce development. There's a piece of economic development that focuses on innovation and small business and entrepreneurship. And then you've got on the quality of place side, you've got people that work in community development and community transformation. And then there's the typical what Tim mentioned, he love the sales, he loves the competition, the business attraction, expansion and retention side. So you've got a lot of different places and avenues that people could look at to find a passion that they have. Maybe they have a passion for helping people get skilled up so that they could get the best job they could get. Maybe they have a passion for helping new businesses start in their community.

Shelley Short:

Maybe they have a passion for making their community the place where people want to live and play and they really are focused on bike trails. I mean there's kind of a place for everybody that wants to find their niche in economic development. And I think that as we've all said, no one really signed up and said, "I went to school for that." Although you can. I mean, there are definitely degree programs. But I would just ask people to think about what do they love about their community and how could they work and get the education they need to make that community a better place. And there's definitely resources for that once they kind of get in that pipeline. But that would be my advice to I guess students that are thinking about it right now.

Clint O'Neal:

Well, great insights from all three of you. I'm really honored to work with you. Last question, feel free to have some fun with this one. If economic development was not an option for you, what career field would you be in? Mark, you want to start us off?

Mark Young:

You know, when I was going to college I actually thought I would be a business development person with a bank or a hospital. So it definitely be something in public relations. Don't know what. But now thinking back, I can't think of doing anything else. So 30 plus years ago when I went on that interview in Wynne, Arkansas that started my career and I think I was where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there. And I'm blessed and grateful to work in this profession and would encourage anybody that ever thought about the profession to join in, because it's a great profession for sure.

Clint O'Neal:

Thanks, Mark. Tim, how about you?

Tim Allen:

Well yeah, I couldn't imagine doing anything other than this right now in my life. It's so much fun. I would say though, if I hit the lottery today, I would probably restore old homes. I've always had a passion, not just because I'm Tim Allen, but I've had a passion for building and restoring things. And so I really enjoy that. I do it all the time on my property. I just, I really, I would probably restore old homes if I hit the lottery today. That's what I would do, Clint.

Clint O'Neal:

All right. And Shelley.

Shelley Short:

Wow. There's so many things I thought Tim was going to say, like maybe be a Fabio care model, hair gel, something like that. I don't know.

Clint O'Neal:

I don't think we have enough studio time for the story that you're alluding to, but.

Tim Allen:

Oh god.

Shelley Short:

So, for myself, I love my job and everybody kind of goes through those times that you start thinking, "Man, am I really doing what I want to be doing? Is there something else I'd rather do." And we kind of kick that around and I just keep coming back to, I love this job. I love the people I get to work with. I love helping our chambers and economic development groups when they run up against something they don't know the answer to, or connecting them to a resource. So, I can't think of something I would rather do other than I have a tremendous love for animals. So I've always said I wanted to open a doggy rescue ranch and maybe that's what I'll do when I retire, but I think I'm in this business for a good while, so.

Clint O'Neal:

All right, well that's fantastic. I want to thank our guest today, Tim Allen, president, CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce. Shelley Short, vice president of programs and partnerships for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce. Mark Young, president and CEO of the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce and Jonesboro Unlimited. As we touched on today, economic development is a team sport. On behalf of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, thank you to everyone on the team. To elected officials and economic developers, parents and educators and all that are involved in workforce development. To those that help businesses run smoothly, and to all the job creators in Arkansas. You make Arkansas a great place to live and it's an honor to work with you in this endeavor. To everyone tuning in, thanks for listening to the Arkansas Inc. Podcast. This is Clint O'Neal, Executive Vice President of Global Business with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. For more information about our organization and the latest economic development news in Arkansas, visit arkansasedc.com.