The Economic Development Administration is awarding a total of $7.8 million in EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance grants to universities across the country to boost their capacity to support regional economic development strategies in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The grant funds will be used to help the UA Little Rock-based Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) create an Arkansas Recovery and Resiliency Plan in partnership with Arkansas State University and eight planning and economic development districts in Arkansas.
“For the first 12 months of the project, we are historically documenting what has happened in Arkansas since March in regards to COVID-19,” said Jim Youngquist, AEDI executive director. “We are getting on-the-ground information for all 75 counties from small businesses, industry, healthcare, local state, and federal governments, and education. We’ve already interviewed more than 500 people across the state from various sectors.”
AEDI is working with the Arkansas Economic Developers and Chamber Executives to reach out to the 138 Chambers of Commerce in Arkansas to learn about the economic impact on small businesses and main streets. AEDI’s economists are analyzing how local income, state sales taxes, and revenue rates are impacting the state’s economy.
“Thus far, we’ve been surprised at how it has affected the smaller towns in the state,” Youngquist said. “We always say we have a lot of small towns that are hanging on, and we feared that COVID-19 would push them over the edge. The initial impact on smaller communities in the state who rely heavily on sales tax revenue for local government operations has not been as bad as we feared. Many people are staying home and shopping locally. Communities will become more vulnerable the longer the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The communities where schools do not reopen are really going to affect the economy. You do not know if parents will be able to keep their jobs if their kids are not going back to school.”
The research group has created eight regional task forces and a 41-member statewide advisory council that includes members from higher education, state government, chambers of commerce, utility companies, U.S. Small Business Administration, Arkansas Department of Education, Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, and more.
“In the second 12 months of the project, we will be working with the task forces and advisory group to develop strategies that focus on economic recovery and resiliency,” Youngquist said. “If something like this happens again, local towns need a plan on how they will be able to deal with this next time. For this to be successful, the people in the communities are going to be the ones who drive this effort. We are trying to create a structure where they can identify what has happened, and we can help them develop strategies toward recovery.”
The funds will be used to provide training, resources, and planning assistance for local governments, schools, small businesses, the healthcare community, manufacturing, and other entities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“These investments come at a crucial time to help our nation’s economy come roaring back and provide hard-working Americans with new opportunities,” said Dana Gartzke, Performing the Delegated Duties of the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “We are pleased to make these investments in EDA University Centers across the nation to deliver university-based resources to communities and businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”