Business leaders from across Arkansas will join with community leaders from the Delta Friday to develop strategies for improving the impoverished region. Simmons Bank, based in Pine Bluff, is sponsoring the second annual conference, “The Arkansas Delta: Why It Still Matters.”
Gov. Asa Hutchinson is scheduled to be the keynote speaker. The one-day conference will include talks by former U.S. Transportation Secretary, Rodney Slater, as well as representatives from the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Delta Regional Authority, and several area universities. Joining them will be members from communities in the impoverished counties in eastern Arkansas.
Rex Nelson, senior vice-president and director of corporate communications for Simmons Bank, says one of the main goals of the conference is to help communities in the Delta learn from one another about successful practices.
"It’s people getting to know each other," said Nelson. "It’s somebody from Wynne that’s talking over coffee with somebody from Dumas and saying, ‘Man, we have done some great things downtown. Why don’t you come up and give us a visit. I’ll show you around.’ Those are the kinds things, those are the kind of networking opportunities that really for the Delta we’ve had far too little of in past years."
All but three counties in the Delta showed labor force losses between the years of 2009 and 2014, according to the most recent five-year study by the Delta Regional Authority. Nelson says this is partially due to difficulties adapting to rapidly changing practices in agriculture.
"Our answer, when we first started losing farm jobs, was to go after manufacturing jobs and those, now, are becoming a bit more rare, so what you have to do is, you have to focus on things like education and health care and recreation - quality of life issues that will hopefully attract young entrepreneurs in," Nelson said.
The conference, being held 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Friday, is free and open to the public, but reservations are required.