Editor’s note: This is the number two story of the year, as picked by the Commercial staff. The number one story will appear in Sunday’s edition.
After more than a year of planning and studying, the results of a comprehensive plan financed by Simmons Bank through the Simmons Foundation are expected to be announced in January.
The Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative — as the plan is called — was announced in November 2015 and involved people who were broken into four steering committees: economic development, education, infrastructure and quality of life. According to the chairwoman of the Go Forward Task Force, Mary Pringos, it is designed to “grow the tax base.”
“Bottom line, that’s what it’s all about,” Pringos said when she addressed the Rotary Club of Pine Bluff in March. “Decreasing population and a loss of businesses means that the services decrease and we want to turn that around.”
She said the idea is to take the work of the 20/20 Commission as a baseline and go from there. To do that, steering committees have been working since January of this year. The 20/20 Commission was set up as an organization to help spur economic growth in Jefferson County, among other objectives.
Rosalind Mouser is the chairwoman of Go Forward’s infrastructure and government steering committee and said she was very pleased that more than 100 people applied to be on a committee, which consists of about 27 people each.
“We feel it is a great indication of our citizens’ interest in Pine Bluff,” she said, adding that committee members represent diversity in terms of gender, age, race and community involvement. In addition, all either live in or work in Pine Bluff. One of the goals was to have 40 percent of the committee members under the age of 40.
Pringos said the committees are being helped by consultants from the Institute for Economic Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, who are being paid by the Simmons Foundation and who serve as facilitators because they’re non-biased.
“Lots of people come in with ideas about what they want to do,” Pringos said. “We don’t want changes just because people have ideas.”
Jim Youngquist, who is executive director of the institute, said his group is providing technical assistance and research training to support economic development.
“Communities tend to put plans together [yet] the people who experience the consequences are often not at the table,” he said. “I think it was a great move of the Simmons Foundation to attract people younger than 40.”
Youngquist also said that “when you do something of this magnitude, this is a significant way to make a difference to have a good future in Pine Bluff.”
All the members of the committees signed confidentiality agreements to prevent their ideas from being talked about before the formal report is released.
Pringos said that it will take two years for the recommendations to be implemented.