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


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.

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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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