After deciding to move forward to develop a comprehensive plan for Jasper's economic growth, city officials and department heads, along with some members of the public met last Wednesday and talked about organizing committees and scheduling meetings to put the plan together.

If they succeed, Jasper would become the first municipality in Arkansas to create such a plan, according to staff of the Arkansas Economic Development Institute.

Staff members Jim Youngquist and April Campbell, along with research specialist Grainger Ledbetter met with officials last May and presented copies of a comprehensive plan adopted in 2018 by the town of Floyd, Virginia. The town of Floyd is very similar to Jasper in the ways of population, geography, highway access and distance from larger cities. It's a good pattern to follow, he said.

A comprehensive plan is a living document that changes with growth and development of the community, Lindquist explained.

Necessary for the plan's success is full public involvement, leadership and most importantly youth involvement to ensure that the work will be carried on into the future.

No other community in Arkansas has a comprehensive plan, Lindquist said. Other communities have developed much narrower plans that focus on a few high profile projects to benefit business, government or the community to improve the area's overall quality of life.

The officials were left to look over the 107-page plan.

Lindquist, Campbell and Ledbetter returned to Jasper Wednesday afternoon, June 26, along with some other specialists in the area of mapping, tourism and economic development, to gauge whether or not there was a change of minds about moving forward.

The conversation, which lasted for more than an hour, took many directions including the need for educating the public about the plan, changing negative attitudes about local sales taxes and changing the culture of leaving the community to buy goods and services to one of shopping local.

The plan would include an introduction giving a history about the community; state the process used in the plan's development including the results of the surveys, other supporting data and analysis used in the plan.

This analysis would include land use maps, employment, labor, income data and revenue trends; housing; transportation including parking, roads and trails, a parking inventory; a list of public programs and facilities, infrastructure, government services, such as fire and police departments, water department and public works; tourism assets and educational assets such as the school and library.

Ledbetter said the work would be conducted through committees. These committees will focus on economic development, tourism, infrastructure, quality of life and land use issues. While each committee would have a chairman, members could serve on as many committees as they desired.

The officials had already selected the committees they would individually chair. Few adjustments were made during Wednesday's meeting.

It was decided that the Economic Development Committee would be the first to conduct a meeting. It was tentatively set for 4 p.m., Thursday, July 22, at City Hall. Subjects to be discussed include working remotely from home, business incentives, zoning and attraction of needed businesses and services.

Jeff Dezort, Newton County Times editor, has worked at the newspaper since 2001. Before that he was a reporter, photographer and assistant editor of the Harrison Daily Times.

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