Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.

There are a number of great plans already in the works to begin redeveloping downtown Pine Bluff. Plans like:

• A new $14 million main public library;

• A new $6.5 million aquatics center;

• A new $8.8 million multi-purpose center;

• A $35 million restoration of the historic Hotel Pines;

• New restaurants;

• New streetscapes and landscaping;

• New commercial establishments;

• New storefront facades and signage; and

• Renewal by continued removal of empty, derelict buildings.

These projects can’t be started—or completed—fast enough for locals who’ve watched helplessly over the years as the central business district has deteriorated.

Unfortunately, visitors today from out of town can’t “see” these planned improvements. They are visible only in architectural renderings or in the minds and business plans of entrepreneurs and dreamers.

We mention this because it happened again recently. An out-of-state businessman was in town—downtown to be precise. And his assessment of the community, based on what he saw around him, wasn’t exactly kind. Actually, he didn’t hold back on his critique. You can probably imagine.

Of course, we at the Alliance jumped to our city’s defense and enumerated all the positive things and all the wonderful projects that are about to happen. But the visible negatives had already made a mental impression that was difficult to erase.

But maybe we succeeded in changing his mind about our city. Perhaps the next time he visits some of the current plans will have become current activity or results achieved.

We mention this also because it’s invigorating to list all the projects soon to be underway. And it’s good for everyone to keep in mind that a positive transformation is coming.

There are some negatives that are really negative. And business executives forming a negative opinion of the community definitely falls into that category. That’s why the “new” visuals are so important to economic development.

Visualization can be a method of changing attitudes. But more than changed attitudes, we need the actual improvements that will change downtown and our city. Actualities are a much easier sell to out-of-town prospects.