LIFT Elevates Strategic Economic Development Initiatives

By Gary Stading, Ph.D.
Dean of the College of Business at Texas A&M University - Texarkana

Motivated by a “what if” proposition in conversation among Leadership Texarkana’s LIFT Team (Leadership Initiative for Texarkana) and the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce, the College of Business at Texas A&M University-Texarkana hosted a forum of multiple groups from Texas and Arkansas on Tuesday, October 27, 2015, to discuss information related to economic development needs and opportunities in the Texarkana region.  The meeting was highly energetic with a strong focus on inclusiveness in bringing regional resources together to increase economic development in the Texarkana region. 

Those attending included:
  • Mr. Buddy Allen, Texarkana Chamber of Commerce
  • Ms. Ronda Dozier, Texarkana College
  • Ms. Melody Harmon, Ark-Tex Council of Governments
  • Mr. Blake Harrell, Southwest Arkansas Planning & Development District
  • Ms. Janie Havel, Texas Economic Development
  • Ms. Hollyann Mitchell, Texas A&M University-Texarkana
  • Mr. Randy Reed, Workforce Solutions of Northeast Texas
  • Ms. Dana Scott, Texas A&M University-Texarkana
  • Mr. Jerry Sparks, City of Texarkana Economic Development
  • Mr. Bart Spivey, Workforce Solutions of Northeast Texas
  • Dr. Gary Stading, Texas A&M University-Texarkana
  • Mr. Eric Voyles, TexAmericas Center
  • Ms. Megan Whitehead, Arkansas Small Business Technology and Business Development Center
  • Mr. John Whitson, City Manager of Texarkana ,TX
  • Dr. Kenneth Haskin, City Manager of Texarkana, AR
  • Mr. Darrell Williams, Small Business Development Center 

The purpose of the meeting was to compare various sources of information related to economic development in the Texarkana area being collected by multiple groups, reflecting the LIFT and Chamber perspective that pursuing growth and opportunity for the entire Texarkana region will benefit through cohesive efforts among all.  The group planned to compare areas of significant overlap of information being collected, and then subsequently, determining if any additional information is needed to increase local economic development. 

In the meeting, information from seven different agencies was presented on the strengths and weaknesses of economic development in Texarkana and the surrounding area. After the individual reports, participants shared concerns, asked questions, and openly discussed the challenges of identifying new businesses and identifying the needs of existing business expansion.

The data from most of the studies being currently conducted is still early in the analysis stage. Most of the studies have not identified firm conclusions yet, but the topics that seem to be consistently surfacing include the following:  gaps in workforce skills; governmental regulations (also discussed in terms of lack of solidarity of presenting a common regional package across state lines especially to the big business “scouts” or consultants); lack of understanding on how to secure financing and capital availability (especially in venture capital types of investing); and to a lesser degree the availability of new markets.

Some additional items of discussion that were discussed and tabled for further investigation included the following topics: regional definitions, effects of being automatically excluded  (without thorough consideration) by “scouts” for potential new (big) businesses, transportation and logistics issues and concerns, population trends and patterns, the potential of angel investing networks (and other venture like capital investment sources relative to “riskier” types of investment ventures), and most importantly, defining the audience of these reports or who will use this information to drive economic development in the region.

Because of the need to drive toward a regional solution, the group decided to reconvene in early February for further planning, discussion, and solution searching.  As was with the case in this meeting, the next meeting in February is also open to additional groups interested in economic development.  The parties involved are unanimously energized and unified in their pursuit of growth and opportunity for the Texarkana region.

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