The Huntsville Economic Development Commission held a work meeting last month to look at the state’s Competitive Communities Initiative Evaluation.

Competitive Communities Initiative has been in place since March 2018. The initiative is a way for cities to assess their readiness for economic development.

Economic and Tourism Director Nancy Marsh said the meeting was attended by commission members, city councilor Debra Shinn, Mayor Darrell Trahan and others.

“I think it was a great start,” Marsh said. “I was really excited we had that many people show up to work on it. That was a good group.”

The four pillars of CCI are: having an economic development organization; having funding; knowing the area’s workforce; and product readiness.

Matt Twyford, senior manager of Community Development with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, spoke earlier this year to the commission.

According to material supplied by AEDC, towns that complete the initiative benefit from potentially more investments, jobs and economic growth; engagement with key development partners; recognition by state and regional officials; and more.

“It’s probably a challenge to complete the evaluation,” Marsh said. “We made a list of things we need to look up and get more information on.”

She called the meeting “Stage 1” of the process.

The group looked at “a lot of identification of things we’ve not ever done,” she said. “So it was very eye-opening and some things in economic development that we need to work on for our city.”

The local economic commission already has developed a strategic plan, some of which has been achieved, such as getting a site for an industrial park and offering economic classes for local businesses.

One area the initiative stresses is working with employers in the city. Marsh said she and others need to study things such as the number of workers at local businesses, hourly wages and more.

She also said that local officials, including herself, need to attend more training and conferences that are held.

“To me, we’ve started. We’re getting our feet off the ground and it’s a starting place for us to realize ... our weaknesses or where we need to do more,” she said.

So far, only Paragould, Newport, Russellville, Jonesboro and Little Rock have completed the CCI.

“Most of those communities have an economic development sales tax, so they have another huge leg up,” Twyford said in April. “Going through the program itself we feel is a big benefit. Even if you only take one of these things and you improve it in your community, then you’ve become more competitive, and that’s our goal.

Marsh said she believes Huntsville also is playing catch-up in economic development.

“I feel we’re behind other people,” she said. “The other cities are big and they’ve been doing a lot more with economic development and tourism – the formal structure of that – and we’re just kind of starting that formal structure of that.”

Marsh said the next step is to look up information on local businesses and the local workforce.

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