THE ROLE OF GOVERNMENT AND NGOs IN LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: A CASE STUDY OF CONWAY, ARKANSAS

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this research project was to identify what the City of Conway and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of Conway could do to enhance Arkansas economic development. Unfortunately, complacency was identified as the greatest challenge to area growth. Local business owners appeared too comfortable with the status quo, often refusing to even consider doing anything new. An intermodal transportation network, expansion of global education for small and medium-sized businesses, and reinforcement of cluster development were identified as the foci for future development efforts. NGOs, especially the Chamber of Commerce, need to provide vision and inspiration in reinforcing cluster development.

CONWAY, ARKANSAS

Conway, Arkansas is located at the transportation center of the state of Arkansas at the crossroads of Interstate 40, a major east-west artery, and Highway 65, which runs from New Orleans to Kansas City. It is adjacent to the Arkansas River, county seat of Faulkner County, and rests on the major east-west line of the Union Pacific Railroad. Additionally, US Highway 64 that connects Interstate 40 and Arkansas Highway 167 at Beebe has become an east-west "shortcut" effectively serving as an outer ring to metropolitan Little Rock. However, Conway has somewhat become a "bedroom" community for Little Rock, and now has a mix of commuters and commercial traffic that has caused considerable congestion on its local roads.

Non-governmental organizations have played an important part in Conway's development (City of Conway, n.d.). The Conway Chamber of Commerce has made significant contributions to the Conway area. Its two most influential projects were the Lake Conway Project and the Conway Development Corporation. Lake Conway, created in 1951, is Arkansas' largest Game and Fish Commission lake (about 6,700 acres) and is a popular fishing area. Conway Development Corporation created the Conway Industrial Park. The Chamber has also been instrumental in attracting the State Civil Defense Headquarters, the Arkansas Human Development Center, and the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) to the city.

In the 1950s, the concept of regional planning and cooperation began in Arkansas. The West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District (WCAPDD) was established as one of eight economic development districts in Arkansas. WCAPDD is a multi-county, non-profit planning and development organization established to promote economic development; to assist local governments and private organizations in obtaining federal and state grants and loans; to prepare comprehensive regional plans for economic development and improvement of government services; to enlist private support for these activities; and to coordinate private and public programs in a multicounty district (WCAPDD, 1996).

Business Development

Prior to World War U, Conway's economy was firmly rooted in agriculture and education. Hendrix College was established in Conway in 1890. Three years later, in 1893, Central College for Girls, now known as Central Baptist College, was created. The University of Central Arkansas, formerly the Arkansas Normal School, was founded in 1907. Diversification of Conway's economy started after World War n (Conway Chamber of Commerce, 1998). Conway has a sizable industrial and technological base. Industries located in Conway include Kimberly Clark, IC Corporation, Virco, Baldwin Piano, and American Management Corporation. Computer database giant Acxiom has called Conway its global headquarters. Recently, however, Conway has witnessed a business retraction. Both Carrier and Nucor Steel have closed operating facilities. Baldwin Piano downsized its workforce and IC Corporation chose Tulsa, Oklahoma for a recent school bus plant expansion. Acxiom recently expanded its corporate office facilities, not in Conway, but in Little Rock.

The city government, local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and local businesses are now concerned with the development efforts for the Conway-Faulkner County area. …