Gov. Asa Hutchinson was among the nearly 120 people who attended a Kick Start Lonoke event last Thursday, May 18.
The ceremony was outside in downtown Lonoke and also on hand were representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and University of Central Arkansas.
They spoke on the steps that have been taken to develop the Kick Start Lonoke Strategic Action Plan.
“I have always looked at Lonoke as a place of opportunity, ” Hutchinson said.
The Governor outlined his keys to economic development, highlighted recent successes in the Delta region, and emphasized that branding and marking a community is important. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Hutchinson was presented with a new mascot for the Governor’s Mansion, the state’s new official goldfish, provided by Pool Fisheries.
In the Kick Start Lonoke’s action plan overview, goals were presented for six priority areas of focus; jobs and education, housing and real estate, downtown and retail development, beautification and recreation, branding and marketing, and infrastructure. The action plan is a strategic blueprint for the growth and development of Lonoke over the next five years. It was created as a result of public forums and action teams working together over the past several months to identify a vision and goals for the community, as well as long term strategic opportunities. The community has worked with the University of Central Arkansas’ Community Development Institute and the Breakthrough Solutions program at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service since August 2016, when a group of community and economic development professionals visited Lonoke to assess the community’s current situation and help them identify breakthroughs to move the community forward. As a result of that session, a community survey taken by over 250 community members and in monthly meetings attended by an average of 50 residents, priority areas and several breakthroughs have been identified.
In beautification and recreation, goals are to create programs and opportunities for beautification of Lonoke, enhance and extend existing walking trails, include additional lighting and signage, maintain and expand park facilities to meet the growing demands of the community, and support arts and cultural activities throughout Lonoke.
The branding and marketing goals are to develop a brand and visual identity for Lonoke, develop sub-brands for districts in the city and sub-campaigns for select audiences; strengthen web presence of Lonoke (municipal, economic developers and businesses); develop strategies to deliver on the brand promise such as marketing tools, training community members, hiring a brand director and rolling out branded items for businesses and organizations to distribute; work with existing Action Teams to reinforce Lonoke’s brand and promote recreational opportunities; set up technical assistance programs to help businesses develop competitive branding materials and encourage businesses to take advantage of travel based websites and online resources; develop a monthly event calendar to celebrate various important moments in Lonoke throughout the year (e.g. monthly event for families on weekend days and open evenings during the week); develop morning radio show or local paper column for the brand director to use as pulpit to talk about the marketing plans for the city
The downtown and retail development goals are to transition the downtown and retail development action team into a standing committee of the Chamber of Commerce, form a Downtown Merchants Association and focus on becoming a Main Street Arkansas community via the Arkansas Downtown Network; design a Master Plan to emphasize connectivity, walkability, and strengthen connections between downtown Lonoke and gateway nodes via enhanced paths and signage; improve the pedestrian experience by creating greenspace in downtown, developing streetscape improvements (landscaping, street trees, ornamental lighting, banners and green space) along paths and at intersections, and increase walkability by extending and connecting the multi-use recreational trail and sidewalk system to downtown; develop partnerships to create a free Wi-Fi zone, offer reduced-cost fiber for downtown businesses and establish a small business/entrepreneur incubator or maker space in a vacant storefront; create an inventory of downtown Lonoke properties, complete with a database of owners and available spaces; develop a corporate office space in downtown for future industry located at industrial site; work with local realtors to market and highlight live/work units in downtown; highlight fine arts and work of local students/artists in galleries developed in empty storefronts. Also create murals, sculptures and other public art projects; promote retail development throughout the community that is complementary to downtown businesses and meets citizen demand
Housing and real estate goals are to designate neighborhoods for regeneration and organize a community clean-up for these areas. Work with the Lonoke Planning and Zoning Commission to recognize these areas and possibly waive building permit fees and alter certain codes to allow for more new construction; meet with CAPDD and other government offices to learn more about programs earmarked for low income individuals to repair their homes; set up a system and provide assistance to help low income families get the information they need to update and repair their homes; meet with developers on expanding existing subdivisions and seek out developers to invest in new subdivisions; work with the Lonoke brand director on marketing initiatives.
For infrastructure, the goals are to alleviate the flooding from storm water runoff that overflows ditches, streets and yards backing up sewer lines in Lonoke by completing more research to determine if storm water runoff can feasibly be directed and retained for a fishing lake or to contribute to cropland irrigation; replace, improve, maintain and extend the water and sewer systems in Lonoke. Conduct forward thinking research on water storage capacity, the sources of safe drinking water that includes deep water wells into the Sparta Aquifer and a connection to the Community Water System and expansion of wastewater treatment facilities; construct, improve and maintain city streets in Lonoke; develop a plan for replacement, repair and expansion of the sidewalks, walking trails and bike paths in Lonoke with an emphasis on American Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, high traffic areas and connections to schools, city parks, daycare centers, restaurants, centers of business and the church community; coordinate with other Action Teams to determine how to improve signage on I-40, connecting state highways and thoroughfares in Lonoke; complete a current assessment of existing and projected electrical power capacity and natural gas supply that can be delivered to zoned industrial sites in Lonoke to establish what types of industries can reasonably be served/targeted, and if new investments in electrical substations, transmission lines or gas lines are needed to connect Lonoke; engage in discussions with the city of Lonoke officials to consider expanding the number of affordable street lights on the corridors that connect the city to the I-40.
The jobs and education goals are to develop an understanding of all businesses within and surrounding Lonoke; identify the current Administration of the State of Arkansas’s plan for Economic Growth and Development; identify all forms of “higher education” and network to develop a strategic presence or pipeline to these institutions for Lonoke; identify strengths and weaknesses of the workforce within Lonoke; increase the incomes of residents of Lonoke to a standard much higher than residents of the “Delta Region” in the state of Arkansas; develop an educated workforce pipeline for Lonoke and the region; focus on and understand entrepreneurship to make Lonoke attractive for new business startups; expand educational opportunities in conjunction with local industries so that our students are employable upon graduation and foster economic growth in Lonoke; improve upon the workforce ready education currently available and communicate what we are doing in the area of education to all stakeholders; recruit a technical school satellite location in Lonoke; develop agriculture and aquaculture programs through partnerships with higher education institutions, local schools and businesses.
More detailed information on how these goals will be obtained, is available on the Kick Start website at https://kickstartlonoke.wordpress.com/actionplan/. Hard copies of the plan will also be made available at the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce office.