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The University of Arkansas at Little Rock has received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to create an Arkansas Recovery & Resiliency Plan and develop a history of the economic effects of COVID-19 on the state.
It is a two-year project and will be done in partnership with Arkansas State University and eight local planning and economic development districts.
The money will provide training, resources and planning assistance to local governments, schools, small businesses, the health care community, manufacturing sector and other entities.
The EDA is awarding a total of $7.8 million of these EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance grants to universities across the country for similar projects.
For the first year of the project, the UA Little Rock-based Arkansas Economic Development Institute will be documenting the impact COVID-19 has had on the state.
“We are getting on-the-ground information for all 75 counties from small businesses, industry, healthcare, education, and local, state, and federal governments. We’ve already interviewed more than 500 people across the state from various sectors,” Jim Youngquist, AEDI executive director, said in a news release.
AEDI is also working with the Arkansas economic developers and chamber executives on this. Its economists are analyzing ocal income, state sales taxes and revenue rates.
Youngquist added that, so far, economists have been surprised.
“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,” he said.
That’s because people are staying home and shopping locally, Youngquist said.
But, he warned, “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. In the second year of the project, the AEDI will be working with them to develop economic recovery and resiliency strategies.
“If something like this happens again, local towns need a plan on how they will be able to deal with this next time,” Youngquist said. “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.”