Editor’s Note: The following was submitted to the Commercial by Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley.

Go Forward Pine Bluff is emphatic about the demonstrable outcomes 2018 will bring as a result of funding becoming available Jan. 1, 2018, to implement the initiatives of the citizens’ plan. The new year will truly showcase benefits of the public and private sectors working together. In fact, many across the state of Arkansas and beyond have declared 2017 to be a monumental year for Pine Bluff.

Arkansans witnessed this community rally around changing the trajectory of our city and watched Pine Bluffians pass the five-eighths cent sales tax by 70 percent of voters. Expectations are now high with the turn of the new year. During the past six months, Go Forward Pine Bluff has worked to establish the required organizational structure, necessary partnerships, and strategic approaches to be successful in 2018 and beyond. We are proud to report the organization stands ready to deliver expected outcomes as allowed by the monthly income tax receipts, private donations and grants.

Go Forward Pine Bluff’s organizational structure is hinged on the leadership and involvement of our corporation board. The board brings a diverse intellectual skill set relative to the organization’s pillars and execution in the areas of education, economic development, government and infrastructure, business development and quality of life. Go Forward Pine Bluff has also solidified its staff with the hiring of Leigh Cockrum as Human Resource Advisor and Office Manager, along with Mildred Franco as Executive Director of The Generator, which is an innovation hub to drive innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic empowerment by creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem through programs and strategic partnerships.

Cockrum has been instrumental in ensuring day to day operations are fluid by offering practical solutions to overcome the challenges of a young organization.

In addition to directing The Generator, Franco will also lead the Employability Training Initiative that focuses on resolving soft skill barriers in the local workforce. Lastly, Franco is responsible for organizing the Educational Alliance Initiative. The Educational Alliance is an ad hoc committee of Go Forward Pine Bluff composed of leaders in the public education sector who will work to improve the education offering in Pine Bluff. Thus far, Franco has successfully formed The Generator ad hoc committee with experience leaders in the areas of business, education and government.

She continues to form necessary partnerships that will allow entrepreneurial programming in 2018. The Educational Alliance ad hoc committee held its initial meeting and is crafting the working agenda for 2018. Franco, together with Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance, has formed a Workforce Development task force. The task force will meet in January to begin developing a plan to address issues of workforce development and employability training facing Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

Strong partnerships, particularly with Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and the Pine Bluff City Council, will continue to be a catalyst for implementing the 27 initiatives of the Go Forward Pine Bluff plan. The working relationship with the City of Pine Bluff has thus far enabled the city to receive a $1.35 million Delta Regional Authority grant to enhance the Downtown Streetscape project. This project is expected to begin in March of 2018.

Collaborative efforts have also proven effective through the reenactment of the Urban Agency.

The Urban Renewal Agency will focus on code enforcement, blight removal and development within defined areas of the city. The Agency’s Commissioners have adopted bylaws and are currently accepting applications for an executive director while working on the Urban Renewal Plan principles. In addition to these efforts, Go Forward Pine Bluff partnered with the Pine Bluff Chamber of Commerce for a well-attended and informative candidates’ development institute. Steve Luoni with the Community Design Center continues to work on the Downtown Master Plan and vision, and we expect the plan to be completed in 2018.

Tax collections for funding the plan began on Oct. 1, 2017, and the first tax disbursement was received on Jan. 1, 2018. Go Forward Pine Bluff is pleased with the success thus far but realize working partnerships will become more critical to expedite implementation of the plan. We anticipate January and February being very active months. We remain committed to transparency and reporting expenditures in the Pine Bluff Commercial. More information regarding updates can be found at www.goforwardpinebluff.org. Thank you all for your support and stay tuned for what is to be an exciting new year.