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Now is time for regionalism. (Commentary).

WHEN NEW YORK-BASED Scholastic Inc. announced plans in May to locate a 600-employee distribution center in Maumelle, it was news savored by many people across central Arkansas. It served to validate the intense efforts of many people who worked to accommodate this welcome newcomer. And, it validates the value of a regional approach to economic development.

Scholastic had been considering central Arkansas and other sites in the central United States for more than six months. It had an astute internal team and had hired a well-heeled corporate real estate firm from Dallas to help locate the best site. Selecting the right location for a 500,000-SF operation would be critical to their success.

There were many opportunities along the way to lose this project to the competition, but every challenge consistently was overcome through the application of teamwork. Scholastic believes, and with good reason, that it has the support of the entire central Arkansas community and the state, and that's because all parties set aside their turf and boundary concerns and worked as a team to recruit this major employer to central Arkansas.

Though Scholastic chose Maumelle for its location, Conway, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Benton and all of central Arkansas benefit. The mayor and economic development director for Maumelle, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Department of Economic Development, Fifty for the Future and other entities came together to address Scholastic's needs and made sure the company chose Maumelle over the dozens of other possible out-of-state locations.

The effectiveness of the regional approach that landed Scholastic is one of the reasons for the existence of the Central Arkansas Economic Development Alliance, or CAEDA. CAEDA is an economic development "marketing team" comprising business leaders who represent the 11-county area in central Arkansas. I am privileged to be the chairman of this organization and to work with some fine people who share in a vision and commitment to showcase business opportunities within central Arkansas.

CAEDA's primary function is to market the region to out-of-state companies and site location consultants in order to attract jobs and investment to central Arkansas. It works with every local economic development organization in the region as a team and does not favor one over the other. CAEDA seeks to pull together the resources, economic and demographic information and population base of an area that has more than 900,000 people within a 50-mile radius of downtown Little Rock. This effort recognizes the interdependent economies of the whole area rather than viewing adjoining towns as mere football rivals.

The benefits are numerous and are long-term. Naturally, we want to appear to be bigger as a whole than we are as separate, smaller entities. Many companies looking to expand or locate may consider only areas with a minimum population threshold of 100,000. Consequently, most communities within central Arkansas would never make the list. However, acting as a region with a market of almost one million people puts all of central Arkansas' communities on the map. We also will be able to leverage scarce marketing resources within the area more effectively, present a stronger "branding" image, better meet the needs of companies ambivalent to political boundaries and, most importantly, produce results.

I'll conclude by elaborating on the benefit of a stronger branding image. The Research Triangle initiative of North Carolina created an outstanding image for central North Carolina through the efforts of three key cities and surrounding communities, three universities, business and government leaders, and numerous economic development organizations. They now enjoy an image that has paid off exponentially for them.

If North Carolina figured it out more than 10 years ago, then surely we can embrace the opportunity now. Let's seize a "regional culture of cooperation" and work together to more fully develop the attractiveness of central Arkansas for top-notch employers such as Scholastic.

Hugh McDonald is president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas and chairman of the Central Arkansas Economic Development Alliance.
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Comment:Now is time for regionalism. (Commentary).
Author:McDonald, Hugh
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 22, 2002
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