The 2019 Rural Rise Summit, a three day event for rural based entrepreneurs, kicked off Tuesday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center, and has had multiple speakers from across the country give lectures on how to be successful with rural entrepreneurship.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said that the success of rural America is critical.

“This topic is critical to everyone. How do you reinvigorate rural towns?” asked Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said that diversity is important in the success of America.

“There are many who don’t like to live in rural communities. We have a great urbanization of our people, so we have to diversify the economy,” Hutchinson said. “Agriculture is the number one industry in Arkansas, and it is a hallmark here, but we have to look at ways to diversify in the business world.”

Hutchinson stated that he is proud of progress being made in Pine Bluff within the last couple of years.

“The new Pine Bluff library is going to be a great asset to the community,” said Hutchinson. “You also have the Saracen Casino Resort that will create 1100 permanent jobs, in addition to the manufacturing jobs that are the strength of Pine Bluff.”

In regards to Saracen Casino Resort, Hutchinson said that he believes a major boost will be provided to Pine Bluff and Jefferson County.

“You can’t have that volume of construction jobs and spending on supplies without having a positive economic impact,” said Hutchinson. “The permanent jobs that will be created is a positive development. The impact on local restaurants and the supply chain will help all of Southeast Arkansas.”

Another positive feature coming to rural Arkansas is broadband internet. The State of Arkansas is devoting $25 Million for a rural broadband initiative.

“Right now we are writing the rules for that so those grants can be available,” said Hutchinson. “The first phase is $7 Million that we will make available quickly, then the rest will need to be made available when the General Assembly comes together again. That money is available, we just need to get the rules in place.”

Hutchinson said the available funds are critical towards getting broadband internet into smaller communities in Arkansas.

“That is critical because historically we have relied on the providers to get grants that are allocated for the FCC and the Department of Agriculture,” said Hutchinson. “This will allow us to maximize leverage for those grants and the federal dollars more, so those grants can go to a community that partners with a provider. That’s the design of it, so my goal is to make sure we have high speed internet access of communities with populations of 500 and above in the next four years.”

While the project is intended for communities with at least 500 people, Hutchinson said that smaller communities could benefit as well as reaching a goal of having broadband access across the entire state.

“Our first step was getting the highest speed to all of our schools,” said Hutchinson. “That helps establish the framework out there. So if you get it to communities of 500, we have created a framework for the fiber that will go further out in the state that will make it easier to get the next step to get it everywhere. You will find that when you lay the fiber for a community of 500 you might pass a community of 400, so they will have easier access. It is a very clear goal that will benefit everyone in getting to the ultimate goal of getting access everywhere.”

Hutchinson also stated that he hopes the first $7 Million is available to be put to use in the next 60 days.

“I’m hoping that the first batch of $7 Million of grants can be sent out in the next 60 days if the legislature can timely approve the rules,” Hutchinson said. “

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington said she was excited to see the Summit come to Pine Bluff.

“I’m excited our city was selected for this special event,” said Washington. “Summits like this can help provide answers on how to empower entrepreneurs and innovators in rural areas with ideas that can transform a nation and change the world.”

Washington spoke about several major corporations that got their start in rural communities.

“There are several Fortune 500 companies that were founded in rural America,” Washington said. “IBM, Pepsi, and Progressive Insurance are on the list. From Arkansas, we have Walmart that was started in rural parts of the state.”

Washington said that there is power in motivated people working together.

“When people rise up with ideas in America, people rise up with them,” Washington said.