Arkansas Economic Development Institute to train budding business leaders to boost economic development in four-state area

UALR sign at the entrance on S. University Dr near University Plaza on January 28, 2016.

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock will teach leadership skills to up and coming regional leaders in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana through a new institute designed to promote economic development in the four-state region. 

The new Red River Leadership Institute will give regional leaders in the four states’ Red River region the tools to create smart and innovative economic development opportunities for the Red River Region and beyond. The Red River Valley encompasses 20 counties and parishes with a population of nearly 840,000. The Institute is especially valuable in the Red River  region where significant layoffs and business closures have occurred. 

“We are excited to work with universities, colleges, regional development organizations, and local businesses from the region to make this unique type of training possible,” said AEDI Executive Director Jim Youngquist.   

The Red River Leadership Institute held the first of seven training sessions at Texas A&M University-Texarkana Sept. 5-6, and will move to Hope, Arkansas, for the second session on workforce development on Oct. 18. The institute will end with a closing retreat and graduation, also in Texarkana, Texas, on May 14-15, 2020. Additional training sessions in 2019 and 2020 will be held in Hope, Arkansas; Broken Bow, Oklahoma; Texarkana, Arkansas; Sulpher Springs, Texas; and Bossier City, Louisiana. 

More than 25 rising business and community leaders from the four-state region have been selected to participate in the leadership institute, where they will learn from a variety of business and economic leaders. 

“Twenty-five economic planners, government officials, business and community leaders from across the region will participate,” said Chris Brown, executive director of the Ark-Tex Council of Governments. “We think that the hands-on skills offered will make a real difference to communities struggling with economic change.” 

Two AEDI employees, Randy Wright, deputy director, and Grainger Ledbetter, assistant research/extension specialist in strategic community economic development, will teach essential leadership skills to the institute’s participants. The topics include situational leadership, conflict management, the role of ethics in business, the importance of an ethical business culture, effective team leadership, and the power of persuasion. 

“The participants will learn a whole lot about leadership,” Wright said. “They will learn to apply their leadership skills to their businesses and will become effective business leaders and move up as leaders in their fields.” 

The participants will also work in teams to complete a real-world, regional project in one of four areas – community development, economic and workforce development, entrepreneurship/innovation, and downtown development – that will be presented to the Red River Leadership Institute organizers. ADEI employees will serve as project mentors and provide research, advice, and resources to the participants. 

ADEI employees plan to use the most important lessons learned from the Red River Leadership Institute to develop an economic development course at UA Little Rock for business professionals and entrepreneurs in the central Arkansas area. 

“This course would be a great addition to UA Little Rock’s curriculum, and local employers could send their people to a great class where they would learn valuable new skills in economic development and leadership,” Wright said.

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