Create Bridges, a two-year pilot program to help rural regions grow their economies through the retail and hospitality industries is seeking participants.

Applications are due Friday, Aug. 3, according to the news release from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Stacey McCullough developed Create Bridges in partnership with the Southern Rural Development Center. Funding was provided by Walmart, according to the release.

McCullough is head of Community and Economic Development for the Cooperative Extension Service, part of the U of A System Division of Agriculture.

The Arkansas team and collaborative partners, University of Kentucky and Oklahoma State University, will develop, refine, and pilot a process to help rural communities build their ability to staff, support and grow retail and hospitality sectors.

“A primary goal of this program is to build local capacity to address needs specific to the region,” McCullough said. “Strategies may include education and training for employees and employers, but they may also involve infrastructure or support services to support these businesses,” McCullough said.

Create Bridges will look at workforce solutions to keep workers and be able to promote from within, according to the release.

“Retail is an important sector that serves local needs as well as being an entry point to the workforce system for new workers. Retail businesses often find it difficult to keep workers for extended periods, which leaves them with a shortage of shift leaders, floor supervisors, and managers,” according to the release.

“Create Bridges builds on the Stronger Economies Together initiative (See:, a collaborative effort across 32 states led by the Southern Rural Development Center that helps rural counties work together to develop and implement an economic development plan for their multi-county region,” according to the release.

Application details

Applications are available at

Regions with two to five counties that are predominantly rural can apply. Regions that apply should have some type of retail hub that pulls workers from outside areas. One selected region will have access to new or adapted workforce programs, financial incentives for employee and employer participation, and funding to support small seed projects.

The Cooperative Extension Service and its state partners will facilitate a Retail Academy for regional leaders and a Business Retention and Expansion Program. The partners will coordinate with regional workforce investment boards to identify opportunities for workforce training.

Funds are available for daycare, transportation and food to overcome obstacles to participation. There are also funds for businesses to identify innovations that will mean better opportunities for their workers.

“This is an opportunity for employers, employees, local leaders and others in the region to work together to improve the local economy and quality of life,” McCullough said.

Details: Julianne Dunn, Instructor-Economic Development at Cooperative Extension, at 501-671-2158, or The application can be found at

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture is an equal opportunity/equal access/affirmative action institution. If participants require a reasonable accommodation to participate or need materials in another format, contact as soon as possible. Dial 711 for Arkansas Relay.

— Julianne Dunn is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.