By John R. Schirmer
Members of the Developing Howard County board of directors held their first meeting Wednesday, Dec. 6, at UA-Cossatot in Nashville.
The board and Howard County Economic Development Director Vanessa Weeks will work to find an industry to replace Husqvarna, which will close its Nashville operation late next year.
Developing Howard County also will offer a number of services to existing businesses and industries.
UA-C Chancellor Dr. Steve Cole works with similar groups in Sevier and Little River Counties. He gave a number of suggestions to the new board members as they begin their work in Howard County.
Once Developing Howard County becomes a 501(c) (3) entity, a number of benefits will be available to donors, Dr. Cole said.
In Sevier County, donors provide money for much of the group’s work.
Donations provide base funding in the three counties, Dr. Cole said.
In Howard County, donors have made a three-year commitment to help the economic development effort.
UA-Cossatot also serves as a “partner,” Cole said. The college’s grant application writers will help provide additional income.
“We’re always looking for economic development grants,” Dr. Cole said of the effort in Sevier County, and the same will be true for Howard.
Dr. Cole said Howard County needs to be recognized as an Arkansas Competitive Community by the state’s economic development commission. The agency “has a list of competitive communities which it shares with prospective industries.”
Developing Howard County should develop a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy which identifies the area’s needs and ways to meet them, according to Dr. Cole.
“The CEDS will include problems and how to address them. This document will open doors for grants. The AEDC and other states will look at it,” Dr. Cole said.
The economic development group should “take care of all of Howard County and make sure all are represented. This isn’t about festivals or parades,” which Chambers of Commerce normally handle to promote their towns, Dr. Cole said. “This group will focus on economic development.”
Weeks will be in charge of day-to-day work, according to Dr. Cole. She and the board will work together on a number of different projects.
One of the early efforts will be creating a website for Developing Howard County. The site will help with prospective industries and businesses.
Word is already out about the soon-to-be vacant Husqvarna plant. Since the closure announcement was made, “There have been people touring the facility weekly” to determine if they are interested in acquiring it, according to Dr. Cole.
Dr. Cole said the pending Husqvarna closure provided the catalyst for the economic development program, but that won’t be all that Developing Howard County will do.
“Half of what we do is helping existing businesses,” he said. Weeks “has already been to business expansion workshops at AEDC. There are grants to help small businesses. Cossatot offers workforce training.”
Forty-three Cossatot students “are getting Husqvarna scholarships this semester. If parents work at Husqvarna, the students can work on anything they’d like at UA-Cossatot for free,” Dr. Cole said.
The board will meet again Wednesday, Dec. 20, at UA-C. At that meeting, members likely will elect officers, set a meeting schedule and take of other organizational tasks.