Five-year grant will fund extension as a University Center to connect rural, marginalized communities in state with local economic development resources
Extension will offer training and workshops in Arkansas’ eight Planning and Development Districts
As part of grant, extension will work with Heartland Forward organization to track workforce data
LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. Economic Development Administration recently awarded a $650,000, five-year grant to the Cooperative Extension Service’s Community, Professional and Economic Development department to establish and operate a University Center. The center will serve extension’s mission to strengthen Arkansans and their communities by connecting them with research-based resources throughout the state.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Extension Center for Rural Resilience and Workforce Development will not be a physical location, but rather a resource serving the state’s “economic development ecosystem,” with a particular focus on rural marginalized populations, including Hispanic and Marshallese communities.
Hunter Goodman, extension director of the University Center for the Division of Agriculture, said an economic development ecosystem “includes all of the organizations and groups that focus on improving local economies, which might include chambers of commerce, business consulting organizations, cities, counties, regional nonprofits and lenders, as well as county extension offices.”
Goodman said this work will be done in partnership with Arkansas’ eight Planning and Development Districts, or PDDs, which are funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. PDDs are multi-jurisdictional entities, commonly composed of multiple counties and sometimes across state borders. Goodman said PDDs develop local and regional strategies for comprehensive economic development, and they partner with public, private and non-profit sectors to implement these strategies.
Working with these PDDs, extension will offer training and workshops for their staff and community partners — such as municipalities, council members, chambers of commerce or quorum courts — on strategic planning and facilitation, grant writing, data literacy and more. This training will also involve teaching staff how to develop culturally relevant outreach opportunities for marginalized communities.
Brandon L. Mathews, extension program manager for the University Center, said staff from the PDDs “expressed a desire to connect to rural, Hispanic and Marshallese communities, but needed assistance developing the right resources, personnel, and networks.”