Arkansas Recovery and Resiliency Initiative

Arkansas Economic Development Districts & EDA University Centers

Only a few short months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the eight Arkansas Planning and Development Districts that make up the Association of Arkansas Development Organizations were already planning ahead and looking at how each district could best respond to the negative economic and social impacts of the pandemic in their communities.  In partnership with the Economic Development Administration (EDA) University Centers in Arkansas, the Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the Delta Center for Economic Development (DCED) at Arkansas State University, the eight districts developed the Arkansas Recovery and Resiliency Initiative. Utilizing the expanded planning funds available through the EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance, the EDDs hired Economic Resiliency Coordinators to produce regional resiliency plans that provided recommendations and strategies for future growth and resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Future growth was a key aspect of each of these plans as the regions looked to find opportunities to move beyond the immediate recovery and response phase of the pandemic. 

Chelsey Weaver, Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District (NWAEDD), spoke to this collaborative planning atmosphere, saying “Connecting with peers throughout the state was critical to developing the recovery & resiliency plan.”  While the plans are District-specific, the Economic Resiliency Coordinators worked across regional boundaries to support the development of each plan. A monthly rolling Zoom call, frequent collaboration activities with AEDI and DCED, and constant inter-District communication and research led to the creation of eight EDD-specific economic resiliency plans. Weaver added, “Everyone was going through this downturn together, and we shared a common goal of supporting the communities in our regions.”    

To reinforce the planning efforts of the Districts, AEDI continuously tracked economic and social data points, providing a six-month COVID-19 Preliminary Report in September 2020, and unveiling the ARR&R  COVID Dashboard that monitored the changing economic conditions across the five-state EDA Southwest Region. Complementary to this dataset, DCED program staff developed and released District surveys to collect the on-the-ground opinions and sentiments of economic and community development stakeholders.   

In 2021, DCED program staff planned to hold a Roadshow series of in-person economic resiliency planning events in each EDD across the state. However, with rising case numbers and no end to the pandemic in-sight, DCED staff and the districts pivoted to a series of weekly Recovery and Resilience Webinars.  This webinar series was highly impactful for DCED with 561 individuals registered for the live events and 350 individuals having watched the series over again on YouTube since publication. Topics covered by the webinar series included conversations on community resilience, broadband, rural health, state and federal recovery resources, and other small-business oriented sessions related to crisis communication, post-pandemic work models, and tools and resources available to small businesses.  The webinar series was intentionally designed to be applicable to a wide range of disasters, disruptions, and crises and will continue to serve as resources for economic developers and planners. To view all eight webinars, visit the DCED website

Economic Resiliency Coordinators at the EDD-level convened diverse regional planning groups to assist the districts in identifying the needs present in their communities. These planning groups brought together stakeholders from education, public health, small business support, elected officials, transportation planning, workforce development, City and County staff, and chambers of commerce to provide the roadmap for economic resiliency in the districts.   

Carson Grant, Regional Economic Disaster Recovery Coordinator for White River Planning and Development District (WRPDD) said, “Developing an Economic Resiliency Plan would not have been possible without the collaboration between WRPDD and the other Arkansas Economic Development Districts. As we worked towards integrating resiliency initiatives into our current and future CEDS, having the colleagues around the state that were dealing with the same intricacies to work through issues was crucial.” These regional planning groups used the economic research, trainings, and data provided by the University Centers to make data-supported, realistic recommendations for growth and resiliency that fit their respective communities.   

To find each District’s plan and the resources provided by the research partnership between AEDI and the Delta Center, follow the link to the Arkansas Recovery and Resiliency Initiative website.  Findings throughout each plan show a statewide need for further growth in the broadband sector to provide more opportunities for business development and remote working, promotion of resources and trainings available to small businesses in Arkansas, development of cross-sector partnerships for workforce development, and a renewed focus on quality-of-life improvements in Arkansas in outdoor recreation, parks and wildlife opportunities, and trail systems. All of these plans are meant to contribute to each District’s completion of their respective Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) and provide specific actions that Districts and their members can take to provide long-term resilience in regions.  

Along with these resiliency plans, each District expressed the need to further incorporate economic resiliency and recovery themes into their CEDS at the next update. While resilience and recovery have been required sections of the CEDS since 2015, many Districts found that the existing resilience sections in their CEDS lacked practical recommendations and strategies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Weaver from NWAEDD says, “The recovery & resiliency plan has better positioned the region as we begin the process of developing our 2024-2029 CEDS.”   

For more information on EDA’s CEDS Content Guidelines and how your District can better incorporate resilience and recovery themes into your CEDS, visit EDA’s website.  

Key Takeaways:   

  • Disaster Knows No Boundaries – Arkansas PDDs worked collaboratively on the Arkansas R&R Initiative and displayed how planning collaborations across regional boundaries will become more common in disaster scenarios and as the geographic boundaries of regional markets and economic opportunities shift and change. EDDs can anticipate multi-region disasters and build their planning relationships with other districts now so that these institutional bonds and personal connections are built out prior to future disasters.  
  • Voice of Resiliency – The example provided by Arkansas PDDs show how EDDs can be the regional resiliency voice in their regions, continuously pushing their communities to implement resiliency planning projects. Just as EDDs have become leaders in their regions on leveraging federal and state investments in economic development, hazard mitigation, and other issue areas, EDDs can be that leader in resiliency. In Arkansas, resiliency planning started at the regional level with their regional resiliency plans and will now permeate down to the local level. Encouraging local governments to take on resiliency planning will be the new opportunity area for EDDs across the country.  
  • Planning Alignment – Arkansas PDDs are now tasked with aligning their new regional resiliency plans with their upcoming CEDS, state agency resilience and emergency preparedness strategies, and existing county-level hazard mitigation plans. Using the resiliency plans to inform their CEDS gives Arkansas PDDs an advantage during their next CEDS planning process by providing an extra level of specialized input on economic conditions and needs in the regions. EDDs aligning community resiliency plans, CEDS, and hazard mitigation plans will provide dividends for future projects and programs. Regardless of the federal agency requirements to do so, aligning these plans will only create stronger regions and stronger communities. For an example of how to align existing planning across departments, check out this example from Top of Alabama Regional Council and the CEDS and Hazard Mitigation Plan Alignment Guide produced by FEMA.  

This case study was written by Andrew Coker, NADO RF Regional Development Researcher


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Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

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Applications cannot be saved and returned to at a later time. It is recommended you compile all of your information in advance in a word processor and cut and paste into the application below.

2023 Impact Awards

The primary applicant must be a NADO member. Project partners, both NADO and non-members, can be recognized under "Project Partners" below.

Primary Project Contact:
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Please upload your organization's logo which will be included on the winning project award certificate.

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This title will be printed on the award certificate for winning projects and in all 2022 NADO Impact Award materials and cannot be changed.

Project Summary & Questions
Please craft clear, thoughtful, and engaging responses to the following questions. Use the following sections to tell us how your project has made an impact, such as its use of creative funding mechanisms, efforts to create efficiencies or reduce costs, unique partnership models, and emphasis on building resilience and/or enhancing your region's quality of life.

For award-winning projects, the information provided below may be used verbatim to inform project descriptions that will be published in the 2023 NADO Impact Awards materials and included on the NADO website.

Please submit at least one photo showing your project in action. Please keep file size to a minimum (<2Mb) and use JPEG format. If uploading multiple files, ZIP files prior to submitting. If you have trouble uploading images they can be directly emailed to Brett Schwartz at [email protected]. Include the project title they correspond to in the subject line of your email.

Note: Submitted photos may be used in NADO Impact Awards materials and in other NADO published materials with credit to your organization. Please also consider submitting photos for NADO's 2023 Photo Contest, which will be held this summer.

Your application is not submitted until you are directed to a confirmation page. If you have any questions or are unsure if your application has been submitted, please contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected]

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

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