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.

An economic development team from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) visited Pine Bluff on June 28 to meet with the Jefferson County economic development team from the Economic Development Alliance.

That’s a lot of usage of the words “economic development.” But that’s what the meeting was all about.

The AEDC folks were in town to give Alliance staffers an in-depth briefing on the new Competitive Communities Initiative (CCI) launched March 26 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson at a state Capitol press conference. They were accompanied by a team representing Entergy Arkansas and Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas, energy utility partners with AEDC on the program.

Both Lou Ann Nisbett and Caleb McMahon of the Alliance attended the formal program unveiling in Little Rock and knew instinctively that Jefferson County just had to be one of the participating communities. Their first clue, in the invitation letter from Gov. Hutchinson, said the initiative was designed “to better equip and prepare your community for competitiveness and further economic growth.”

The next signal was an April email to Nisbett from Matt Twyford, senior manager of AEDC’s Community Development Division, asking if “you are interested in moving forward,” which entailed scheduling a required briefing by AEDC and receiving a copy of the community-level evaluation form that must be completed.

The rigorous evaluation form, as overviewed for the Alliance by Twyford, covers four areas: Economic Development Organization, Economic Development Funding, Workforce Narrative, and Product Readiness (available sites and buildings).

The form is designed to provide an assessment of the community’s economic development readiness and give feedback recommendations for improving competitiveness. Receiving the state’s CCI designation also could result in more project leads from AEDC. The challenge of a community betterment initiative was the clincher for the Alliance team. After all, being better means attracting even more investments and jobs.

So, sign us up! And that includes the mayors of Pine Bluff, White Hall, Redfield and Altheimer, as well as the Jefferson County judge.