JASPER — Jasper could become the first municipality in Arkansas to develop a comprehensive plan for future economic development.

Last May 30, Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) staff members Jim Youngquist and April Campbell along with research specialist Grainger Ledbetter met with Jasper officials and department heads to outline the work that would be required to develop the plan.

This was the third meeting with the AEDI staff. Here is the background behind those meetings:

Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District (NWAEDD) received a grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) in 2017 to perform strategic economic assessments in its most rural counties. The EDA grant enabled NWAEDD to contract with the AEDI to perform the assessments using its Arkansas Cultural and Community Economic Strength System (ACCESS).

Through ACCESS, professionals from AEDI aid the community in performing a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis, compiling and completing a community survey, and utilizing those sources to identify top priorities with the ultimate goal of determining the best way of achieving those goals.

Three communities over the course of three years will be chosen to participate in the endeavor.

The first community chosen was the City of Yellville in 2018. The City of Jasper was chosen to participate in 2019.

The first meeting held last March at the Carroll Electric Cooperative Building in Jasper reviewed results of a survey conducted to identify the major strengths of the area that could be marketed to grow the local economy. But the AEDI wanted to gather input from younger residents' perspective and later visited Jasper School to meet and survey students.

Youngquist and Campbell both said they came away from that meeting impressed with what they learned from the students and were excited to move forward.

At the May meeting held at noon in City Hall, Lindquist 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 set 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.

Although the city officials could only thumb through the 107-page plan the town of Floyd adopted, It was their consensus that Jasper could adopt its own.

City Council Member Lindsey Graham said the plan is important for the city to have as it could be used to apply for grants.

Campbell went over the outline of the plan. It 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 then selected the committees they would individually chair.

Ledbetter indicated that a 10-month-long timeline would be needed to complete the plan.

City Council Member Michael Thomas said he wants to sell the community to draw tourists and new residents to Jasper.

City Council Member Todd Parker said that the plan will be data driven which will make the decision process easier.

Campbell suggested publicizing the plan on the city's website and making hard copies available at public locations for residents' to read and offer input.

The city council would have to adopt the final plan as a living document subject to updating every five years.

It was agreed that the group would meet again at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 25, at City Hall.

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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