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Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Sept. 5, 2017) — The third year of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Uncommon Communities initiative will kick off this week with a meeting in Morrilton.

This year’s sessions will differ from previous years in that the bimonthly meetings will take place in the five counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – that are part of the initiative. First up is Conway County, which will host the two-day workshop beginning Thursday at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. In past years, the bimonthly meetings were held at the Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain.

“This year’s sessions will highlight the good work that these five counties have been doing since the start of the program in 2015,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “In addition to bringing in speakers and hearing from our partnering experts, our participating community leaders will help one another assess the potential strengths and opportunities for improvement in each of their communities. They will report on their successes and help each other look ahead to a vibrant and sustainable 21st century economy in rural Arkansas.”

Uncommon Communities marries the wisdom and proven methodology of Dr. Vaughn Grisham, a celebrated community development expert and professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi, with the award-winning Breakthrough Solutions partnership – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and the expertise of Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Uncommon Communities began as a pilot program focusing on five counties in the vicinity of the Institute: Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell. All of these counties are largely rural and have poverty rates between 17 and 23 percent; lost 1,249 jobs between 2007 and 2013; and have unemployment rates that are 109 percent of the state average. Uncommon Communities serves as a model in addressing these critical issues in quality of living and community/economic development.

“The Institute partnered with Drs. Grisham, Peterson and Robertson to create Uncommon Communities because we know it’s the kind of work that Winthrop Rockefeller did,” Harris said. “Gov. Rockefeller made significant contributions to rural Arkansas through personal philanthropy and through policy initiatives. We know he would be proud of the progress these five communities have made over the past two years.”

This week’s session will feature two guest speakers: Greg Tehven, co-founder of Emerging Prairie in Fargo, N.D., and Charlotte Strickland, founder of Strickly Speaking and director of professional development and training at the University of Central Arkansas. While most of the two-day session is restricted only for the community leaders participating in the initiative, the two keynotes are open to public. Those interested in attending the keynote presentation should contact program officer Samantha Evans at 501-727-6257 or sevans@uawri.org.

For more information about Uncommon Communities, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/institute-programs/uncommon.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Uncommon Communities spurs community development in Conway County

Spend a few minutes talking with Barry McKuin and it quickly becomes evident how much he loves Conway County. You can hear it in his voice and his choice of words. He’s spent the greater part of his life there. It’s home.

But not too terribly far in the past, he says, he felt that something was missing. He just couldn’t quite put his finger on it. But it kept coming to mind whenever he would discuss economic development and job recruitment in Conway County. In his community.

Then, approximately 20 years ago, McKuin was at a symposium in Batesville where he heard a speech from Dr. Vaughn Grisham, professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi. Something Dr. Grisham said immediately struck the now former director of the Conway County Economic Development Corp. “That’s it! That is what’s missing.”

Community development precedes economic development, Dr. Grisham said. 

“The message from Vaughn Grisham [was about] the history of Tupelo focusing on community development, and how it led to economic development,” said McKuin, who is currently on the board of directors at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “I have never been one to take many notes, but I found myself writing on every blank piece of paper I had.”

Fast forward a couple decades.

In August 2015, the Institute began training sessions for a two-year pilot program based on the methodology and insight of Dr. Grisham. This community and economic development program, Uncommon Communities, was created with the goal of producing community leaders who were equipped to assess the gaps in their communities, as well as mobilize the community to fill those gaps in the areas of economic development, education and workforce development, and quality of life and place, said Cary Tyson, the former program officer who led the pilot program at the Institute. The program was developed as a partnership between the Institute, Dr. Grisham, Breakthrough Solutions – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Before you can do 21st century economic development,” Tyson said, “you have to do community development.”

Tyson also noted that from the beginning, representatives from all five counties who participated in the Uncommon Communities training – counties near the Institute: Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – all participated together. They had to learn to cooperate with each other more as partners and less, perhaps, as competition.

“Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller strongly believed in partnership and regionalism,” Tyson said. “I always called it, ‘coopertition.’”

To that purpose, said current Institute program officer Samantha Evans, year three of Uncommon Communities will feature tours of each participating county, during which representatives will be able to report on their community development progress. This new aspect – which will kick off with a tour of Conway County – will allow communities to learn from each other and assess what might work for them in their own backyards.

“If you want jobs, want economic development, then you have to have leaders – the right people on the bus,” Evans said. “Then you just determine where you want to go.”

Dr. Linda Birkner, vice chancellor of administration at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, is already on that bus, and she’s already looking forward to touring her neighboring counties to witness the transformations taking place.

“We’re building bridges, really – ‘people-bridges’ – to address any problem that may arise in our community,” said Birkner, who moved to Conway County in 1984.

In fact, to continue with the bridges metaphor, Birkner says she can best describe the work that has been taking place in Conway County under Uncommon Communities as “making connections.” And, nowhere was the importance of community connections more evident than during Munchin on Main Street – a new one-day community festival that was a big success this past spring.

Due to some unforeseen challenges, the joint project of Main Street Morrilton, the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce and Uncommon Communities had to come together in a relatively short period of time: music, entertainment, food trucks and activities for kids all had to be finalized within six weeks. Not only did everything come together, it was such a success that another festival is planned for next year, as well.

“That would have never been able to happen in six weeks if we had not already had all those [Uncommon Communities] meetings and made those community relationships,” Birkner said.

Munchin on Main was a dynamic community achievement. Perhaps the type of dynamic achievement McKuin felt was missing from Conway County over the years. It didn’t help that an existing leadership program ended in the mid-2000s, McKuin said. But that’s now slowly coming back.

“As a result of Uncommon Communities, we were motivated to restart the leadership training (Leadership Conway County),” he said. “We had our first graduating class last year and we already have a second class filled for 2017. Through our leadership classes we are identifying community projects that merit working together and developing funding, when appropriate.”

But the success of Uncommon Communities can perhaps be best summed up in something else McKuin said: “This is not the end of the story.”

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Leading the way

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute was proud to send Janet Harris, director of programs, to participate in the 2016-17 session of Leadership Arkansas. Leadership Arkansas, a program of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, provides an immersive experience for up-and-coming leaders in Arkansas to learn and grow in their leadership capacity.

Institute Executive Director Dr. Marta Loyd had this to say about Janet's experience:

"Upon nominating Janet for Leadership Arkansas, I knew the experience would be a win-win-win. I was not disappointed in that it was a win for Janet - she grew professionally and personally and built lasting relationships across the state. It was a win for Leadership Arkansas - Janet is intellectually curious and has a sharp mind. I am certain the class benefited greatly by her participation. And it was a win for the Institute - Janet was able to spread the word to class XI about our compelling mission and the good work we are doing here. I am proud of Janet for her commitment to the program and congratulate her on making the most of the opportunity."

Janet recently responded to some questions we had about her experience.

Q: What expectations did you have going into Leadership Arkansas? How did the experience compare to your initial expectations?

A: Having formerly traveled the state extensively as a leader in state government, I looked forward to engaging with private sector leaders from the perspective of the Institute, learning more about their successes and hearing their perspective on Arkansas’ workforce development challenges. The experience exceeded my expectations in that regard, particularly in the way that we were welcomed into each community and allowed access to “behind-the-scenes” operations at some of our state’s leading industries and the candid conversations we were able to have with them. Arkansas is such a diverse state, with each of our regions having unique strengths and opportunities for growth.  I found the experience of meeting those local leaders and spending time with them in their communities to be invaluable. 

Q: What is one or more things you learned about Arkansas, business or leadership that you did not know before LA?

A: We had some wonderful leadership and personal development sessions during the program. The ones that stand out the most are the visioning and leadership exercises we participated in at Crystal Bridges, where we were encouraged to think about leadership through our experience with art, and our last session with Dr. Jeff Standridge, who tailored a leadership exercise for us that really caused me to think deeply about my personal and professional goal-setting.

Q: Describe one of your favorite memories from your experience.

A: The state government and military session held at the State Capitol and at Little Rock Air Force Base, respectively, were my favorite sessions. We held a mock legislative session at the Capitol, which for me felt like coming home after my years in state government. Gen. Joe Wilson, a class member of ours, was such a gracious host at the LRAFB, and not only were we given a fantastic behind-the-scenes tour of the base, but we also had a chance to fly on a C-130, which was quite the thrill. I even managed to keep down my lunch! Overall, though, the connections and friendships I made with my classmates will be what I value most in the years to come. We had a great time getting to know one another and developed a deep respect for the work that we are each doing in our communities.

Q: How will your class of LA stay connected and engaged?

A: We have appointed two dynamic class representatives who are already finding opportunities for us to reconnect with each other. Thanks to the leadership of class member Mark Scott of Walmart, we are having a bonus session in Bentonville later in July. And, I am so pleased that Leadership Arkansas Class XII will host their opening session at the Institute, where I will be helping out as an alum. We have a Facebook group where we keep up with each other’s professional accomplishments and family news, and we have committed to participating as alums together for various other Class XII sessions. I am hoping that we can bring Leadership Arkansas alumni to the mountain for a summit-style working session like we do for our Under 40 Leaders, so that we can continually keep this group of professionals engaged in contributing to solutions for Arkansas.

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Under 40 Forum report touts ways to heal state’s ‘fractures’

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 30, 2017) — The 2017 Under 40 Forum report was released this morning by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. The report is being mailed to political, business and community leaders across the state and can be viewed online at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/2017under40report.

The report summarizes the discussions that took place March 2-3 at the Rockefeller Institute at the Under 40 Forum, which invited all 40 Under 40 honorees as designated by the two business publications in 2016 to engage in meaningful dialogue to address “Fractured Arkansas.” The topic sought to explore the various divisions – social, economic, cultural, political, etc. – that divide the state and hinder progress, and to offer solutions to those challenges.

A group of the 2017 Under 40 Forum participants met earlier today with Gov. Asa Hutchinson to discuss the report and expand on their findings.

“After my meeting with the Under 40 honorees at the Capitol on Tuesday morning, I am more confident than ever about the future of Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “This generation of leaders have big ideas and the commitment to service that will help bring the ideas into reality. I applaud them for their hard work and clear thinking.”

One of the key issues identified in the report is a need for alternative approaches to education.

“It’s no surprise that education was a key part of the discussion at the Under 40 Forum,” said Dr. Marta Loyd, executive director of the Rockefeller Institute. “This topic was a highlight of their meeting with the governor. They championed a greater commitment to internships and mentorships for high school students. Building bridges between the business community and our schools was a clear priority.”

Another key theme of the report is leadership in cultural competency.

“The need for better understanding across cultural gaps is pretty clear,” said Skip Rutherford, dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. “It was encouraging to have this impressive group of young leaders, from various cultural backgrounds, all working together and all willing to be honest with the governor about what they think is important.”

One of the recommendations in the report is for cultural competency to become a priority not just in the more populated portions of the state, but also in small towns and in corporate board rooms.

The Under 40 Forum began in 2016 as a partnership between the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, the Clinton School of Public Service, Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. It was supported this year by Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, Simmons Bank, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and the Clinton School.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Our own version of March Madness

March came shooting out of a cannon at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. We put on four programs in March, up from our typical 1-2 per month schedule that we typically adhere to.

We kicked off the month with the second annual Under 40 Forum, which brought some of the state’s brightest young leaders, as designated by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal and Arkansas Business, together for a  two-day facilitated discussion on the fractures that divide our state and ways to heal them. The Forum is held in conjunction with the Clinton School of Public Service. One the participants – Eric Wilson, CEO of Noble Impact – offered this feedback on the Forum: “Every state has a 40 Under 40 list, and most of them are photo opportunities and a happy hour. But here in Arkansas, we’re trying to do something more. Instead of just taking a photo, we’re getting everybody together in a room and asking them to discuss some of the biggest challenges facing our state.”

A report detailing the group’s findings is forthcoming and will be distributed to leadership across the state in government, business and communities.

Then about a week later on a cool spring day, more than 65 participants gathered at the Institute for the Business Workshop for Landowners. Part of a partnership with Mississippi State University’s Natural Resource Enterprise Program and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, the workshop provided experts with in-the-field knowledge on how to manage the land and look at their land with a different focus.

The morning session included a field tour just a short drive from the Institute on the property of Mr. Henry Jones. The property included 288 acres of short-leaf pine and hardwoods. The property has been in Mr. Jones’ family since 1884 and started out as a cotton field and evolved through the years to some timber property and space for the family to hunt and experience nature. During the field tour, participants enjoyed talks from wildlife biologists, foresters and Mr. Jones discussing the history of the property and different forestry management techniques such as thinning to improve forest stands and disking for wildlife. Mr. Jones was able to show his success after implementing these techniques in one year’s time: a quail covey established on the west end of his property. 

After lunch, attendees heard talks on recreational enterprise opportunities, legal liability issues and estate planning. We sold out the event this time and already have folks asking about the next workshop. We hope to have another one in the fall, with an announcement coming late spring or early summer.

The following day, on March 10, we held our ninth Uncommon Communities training. Uncommon Communities is our community and economic development program done in partnership with Dr. Vaughn Grisham, the Cooperative Extension’s Breakthrough Solutions program and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s School of Public Affairs. In this session, our five participating counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – were coached in quality of place and placemaking.

Representatives from Yell County presented to the group their plans for downtown revitalization in Dardanelle. These plans include installation of a hammock park, a dog park, historical re-enactments, bike and walking trails, a Native American heritage museum and more.

Finally, on March 23-24, we held our Rural Health Summit (pictured above), which convened health care leaders from across the state to identify gaps and opportunities related to health care in rural areas. This is the first wide-scale effort to address this pressing need. The Institute will soon report out to the group with a summary of their recommendations, and a group of volunteers from among the participants will work to begin implementing some of those recommendations and identifying other partners to join for another summit in late 2017 or early 2018. This effort has the potential to provide higher quality and more access to care for our state’s rural populations, all through the power of collaboration and cooperation.

There’s lots more to come in 2017 for the Institute, including our Art in its Natural State competition, which kicked off in February, and our annual performance of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. We’re relieved that the March Madness is behind us and are ready to take on the next challenges.

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Dr. Ruth Hawkins to deliver keynote at Uncommon Communities session

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Jan. 9, 2017) — Renowned heritage tourism expert Dr. Ruth Hawkins will deliver the keynote address at the January session of Uncommon Communities. Hawkins will deliver her keynote address at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain.

Admission to the keynote address is free and open to the public, though advance registration is required. Those interested in registering should visit https://ruthhawkinsuncommoncommunities.eventbrite.com.

Hawkins is the director of Arkansas Heritage Sites at Arkansas State University. In this role, she has developed and directed the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center at Piggott, the Southern Tenant Farmers Museum at Tyronza, the Lakeport Plantation near Lake Village and the Historic Dyess Colony: Boyhood Home of Johnny Cash.

Hawkins’ presentation, titled “Using Your Community’s Heritage for Fun and Profit,” will cover ways in which small communities can use their own unique history to drive tourism and economic development.

“Dr. Hawkins is known throughout Arkansas as a leader in heritage tourism and historic preservation,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “The work she has done in northeast Arkansas and the Arkansas Delta has been transformative for those communities. We look forward to drawing from her insights into this important aspect of community and economic development.”

Uncommon Communities is a community and economic development initiative that provides participants, chosen by their respective communities, the opportunity to attend five carefully crafted sessions at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute over the course of a year. Each of the five counties in the pilot group – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – is invited to send six participants to the sessions, which are held for a day and a half, every other month. The sessions were designed based on feedback from the counties when asked what skills and resources they needed to accomplish their goals and include: community leadership development, economic development in the new economy; tourism, marketing and branding; quality of place and placemaking; and exemplary communities moving forward. Each session brings renowned speakers from across the United States plus throughout Arkansas. In addition, many of the sessions are interactive and give participants the opportunity to work in groups and learn from other participating counties.

Uncommon Communities marries the wisdom and proven methodology of Dr. Vaughn Grisham, a celebrated community development expert and professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi, with the award-winning Breakthrough Solutions partnership – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and the expertise of Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Uncommon Communities is supported by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, and by Entergy.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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'Together we can become worthy of the moment'

Working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and living atop Petit Jean Mountain, I am blessed with easy access to some of the prettiest scenic views in Arkansas. I can’t help but think that the picturesque vistas looking westward off of Petit Jean’s broad plateau is part of what kept Winthrop Rockefeller in Arkansas.

But Rockefeller’s view of Arkansas went well beyond his recognition of its natural beauty. From his farm, home and office on Petit Jean, he could see not just the physical attributes of the Arkansas River Valley, he cast a vision for the future of a state that, in the 1950s and ‘60s, was hanging in the balance.

That vision led him into politics, and 50 years ago today, he was sworn in as the 37th governor of the state of Arkansas.

A lot has changed in Arkansas in 50 years, and much of the positive change that has happened here can be traced back to the two terms that Winthrop Rockefeller served as governor.

Today I was privileged to sit in the gallery as Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered his State of the State address to a joint assembly of the Arkansas Legislature. At the suggestion of our director of programs, Janet Harris, we reached out to the governor’s office to remind them that the State of the State address happened to fall on the monumental anniversary of Winthrop Rockefeller’s inauguration.

Gov. Hutchinson opened his address with a quote from Rockefeller’s inaugural speech:

“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I … a moment subject to special scrutiny … laden with special challenges … and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.”

Hutchinson followed that quote with a charge to the Legislature: “Today, we have our own moment in history, and we can only be worthy of this moment if we work together.”

Commitment to a collaborative approach to problem-solving was a hallmark of not just Winthrop Rockefeller’s administration, but his entire life. I was proud to hear that sentiment echoed 50 years from the time he first took office.

I was also struck by some of the parallels between the two governors’ priorities. Hutchinson today spoke of the need for more efficiency in government. This was also a priority of Rockefeller, who dramatically reduced the total number of state agencies during his tenure as governor.

Hutchinson touted recent economic development efforts throughout the state, citing Sig Sauer in Jacksonville, Sun Paper in Arkadelphia, Metova in Conway, Mars Petcare in Fort Smith, FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro and J.B. Hunt in Rogers. Before running for governor, Rockefeller served as the chair of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, a precursor to today’s Economic Development Commission. He helped usher in more than 600 new industries in Arkansas, resulting in more than $250 million in added salaries.

I’d like to think that if Gov. Rockefeller could have heard today’s State of the State address, he would be proud to hear how far we’ve come as a state. But he would also roll up his sleeves and prepare for the work yet to be done.

A mentor once told me that if I wanted to truly make a difference in my life, I needed to become a part of something that would outlive me. He also suggested that if we hope to see our work completed, we simply have not asked big enough questions. Winthrop Rockefeller personified this philosophy and dared to ask big questions. He took on challenges that he knew he would not live to see conquered.

As I reflect on the work of the Institute and on the indelible legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller on this important anniversary, I am inspired by his accomplishments, but also by his heart and his approach—which was to engage and empower others and to encourage them to aim high toward answering the big questions.

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Out of many, one

In September, I went into the first session of Leadership Conway County not quite sure what to expect. It started with a two-day retreat with a group of people whom I had never met. I was curious as to what we would be learning as well as doing for the betterment of Conway County. After just three sessions into our 10 month program, I have learned more about the needs of our community, as well as what our group wants and desires from these classes. And, unexpectedly, I have learned more about myself in the process.

The Leadership Conway County Class of 2017 (or LCC 2.0 … we do not have an official name at the moment) is quite a unique group. The members range from a senior in high school to the chief of police; a Vietnam veteran-turned-city councilman to a man who participates in timber sports in his spare time; school teachers to a conference food service manager. We all see different areas of the community, which helps to give a unique perspective on the needs of the citizens. The classes so far have ranged from a jovial getting-to-know-each-other retreat to an emotional session on what makes a great leader. And we are really just getting started, being only three sessions into the class.

At our first meeting, after introductions, I learned a little about the history of Conway County, including the importance and changes that came by Winthrop Rockefeller moving to the county. Some of the story I had already heard, but being able to hear some personal vignettes made the influence more real. Jerry Smith, our interim leader (he emphasizes the interim part), put together a great two-day program, which helped us not only get to know each other, but aided us in defining what we felt were the needs and wants of our community. The next session, which started as an interactive exercise on communication, became a discussion on the different types of citizens within our community and what ways we can work with all of them to help get things done. Since the majority of the members have lived in Conway County either all of their lives or at least more than half of their life, I was able to interject my experiences not being from the area. Our latest session was spent hearing from two speakers on the importance of leadership and what makes someone an effective person. I learned the most about myself during this session. And by knowing more about me, I can use what I have to help others. The other members are not necessarily involved for the same reasons, but our ultimate goal is shared: We all want our county to grow. We want it to be a place we are proud to call home, a place to raise a family, a place the residents want to stay.

I am honored to be involved with this group of citizens who are all wanting to get to work on helping their community grow. Though we are still finding our footing, the Leadership Conway County Class of 2017 is sure to spend the next few months getting things rolling in the community.

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Let's talk about goats

By all accounts, the inaugural Arkansas Goat Festival in Perryville, held earlier this month, was a smashing success. And really, how could it not have been? There were goats on parade. People in goat costumes. Goats in people costumes. And all other sorts of things goat.

We've gotten to know festival organizer Sarah French, co-owner of Crescent Creek Farm, through her involvement in the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute's Uncommon Communities initiative. We touched base with Sarah for a post-Goat Festival check-in.

Q: I know this idea was sparked from the Uncommon Communities initiative, but how exactly did it come about?

A: Liz van Dalsem and I were talking about events for "Saturday on the square," and I thought, "how much fun would it be to have a goat parade? Oh! Oh! What if the goats were in costumes? And we could have goat X and goat Y," and it grew from there.

Q: What were your expectations for this year’s event, and were those expectations met?

A: I thought this project was pretty audacious on so many levels, and "expectations" isn't the right word to describe it - I would call them hopes. And since I had no precedent to judge anything on, I could only go based on social media and face-to-face feedback I got. I really just hoped people would come. And people came. I felt like 500 people would have been "successful" and we more than doubled that ( coincidentally, we also doubled the population of Perryville for the day!) . I was very relieved and thrilled that the buzz on social media actually did translate into people getting in their cars and making the drive. So I guess the answer to your question is yes.

Q: What were your favorite moments or “snapshots” from the event?

A: That day is mostly a blur for me, but seeing all the people and so much energy and happy attendees and GOATS IN COSTUMES ... dreams do come true! 

Q: How do you see the event expanding next year?

A: We have lots of ideas for next year, some new additions to the lineup and some retouching of what we did this year. I don't have details on how it will expand, but we know more now than we did before and it's only going to be better in 2017.

Q: How can Perry County capitalize on the success of this event?

A: There has been talk (not necessarily in official circles, but talk none the less) of making a goat-play structure at the city park. Like some cities have dog parks. We could have the only goat park in the country. So I do hope there is movement on that, and I will support it any way I can. Now that it's clear people will actually come, we can position ourselves to be ready for tourists, to advertise how fun and family-friendly we are, to entertain goat lovers from all over the country!

Q: Any details you can share about next year's event?

A: I don't have much information to offer, except to please block your calendars for the first Saturday of October, 2017. The "Second Annual" Arkansas Goat Festival will be Oct. 7, 2017. This time, we will have a committee, and we'll start planning in January instead of August! This gives me great optimism for a bigger, better, more well-fed event.

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Creating a culture of cooperation in Conway County

It was 1996 when Dr. Vaughn Grisham first came to Conway County. He came at the behest of Barry McKuin, then of the Chamber of Commerce, now on the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute board, having heard Vaughn speak on his belief that community development precedes and works in tandem with economic development. That partnership was prophetic as it helped prepare Conway County in facing some of its most significant economic challenges with the loss of a number of major employers.

Fade to 2016 and Dr. Grisham has returned. Working in partnership with the Institute, Breakthrough Solutions and UALR’s Institute of Government, Vaughn helped develop the curriculum for the Uncommon Communities initiative working to improve the quality of life and economic climate in Conway, Pope, Perry, Van Buren and Yell counties.

2016 also brings with it the return of Leadership Conway County. Dormant for about a decade, participating in the initiative and working again with Dr. Grisham via the Uncommon Communities initiative inspired a group of leaders to decide that resurrecting Leadership Conway County is a necessary step in preparing the county for 21st century economic development.

Kickoff began in September and will continue monthly for nine sessions, including an overnight retreat. The session topics include: Teambuilding, Change, Group Dynamics, Diversity, Leadership Development, Ethics, Historical Perspective of Morrilton and Conway County, infrastructure tour, community development and trust building, economic tours, and a poverty simulation followed by the graduation ceremony.

The Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce is leading the way in producing the updated program. Col. Joe Dowdy, USMC (Ret.) will be the keynote speaker at both the fall chamber banquet as well as the facilitator of the session on leadership. Col. Dowdy spoke at the kickoff of Year I of Uncommon Communities, and his powerful message was key in reminding the core committee how important leadership development is to community improvement.

More information about Leadership Conway County is available on the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce website.

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