Local News: Economic Task Force Considers ‘Unique’ Growth Strategies (3/24/22)
Eureka Springs is unique in many ways and should approach economic development a little differently than other communities in the state.
It was one of the main opinions shared at the March 16 meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development, which included presentations from representatives of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
AEDC Director of Community Development Matt Twyford and AEDC Business Development Team Senior Project Manager Jack Thomas spent time providing an overview of the various economic development incentives in the state. and how they could possibly benefit the region’s goal of stimulating the economy and attracting new businesses.
“We want to discuss what could be done or how we could promote more incentives or programs for Eureka Springs,” said Sandy Martin, chair of the mayor’s task force. “We’ve had phenomenal growth, our population is growing, we’re getting new, young, fresh blood here. We’re attracting a young audience, lots of people from Texas, Colorado, California, and new business investment here.
“Our real estate is going crazy, but we’re atypical. We’re very unique. So, we need a unique perspective from AEDC to really help us. We think there are programs or incentives that can be developed for Eureka Springs that could be replicated statewide in growing rural areas and areas that are more reliant on the type of gig economy that we’re increasingly reliant on, not so much brick and mortar and new creative economy.
Twyford agreed, saying he understood Eureka Springs was different.
“I know the unique nature of Eureka Springs very well,” Twyford said. “So I’m looking forward to helping Eureka in any way I can.
“When I talk about Eureka and AEDC’s traditional role in economic development, I always point out that Eureka Springs doesn’t have a high school football team because there aren’t a hundred yards of flat land where to put a football pitch, so you know, that kind of problem creates challenges that most of our traditional incentives, which tend to be for larger industrial type projects, don’t really fit the land, but also don’t really fit the county community’s desire.”
Twyford mentioned the realization during COVID-19 that work can be done — and done effectively — remotely and how that likely brought new residents to Eureka Springs.
“Your community is probably very prepared for the type of talent who wants to live where they want to live and work wherever a job will allow them to work remotely,” he said.
“I know that often when I talk to communities that are at this stage and look for ways to really improve their level of economic development, I try to point out other communities that they can talk to and get together. Inspire. But Eureka is unique, and there isn’t necessarily one [city] that I can say that you all should go and do exactly what this community is doing because you have special challenges, but also special opportunities.
TRADITIONAL AND TOURIST INCENTIVES
Thomas described the grassroots incentives AEDC offers to businesses that are possibly considering locating in the state. These fall into two categories – statutory incentives and discretionary incentives.
“Legal incentives are available to companies if they meet the basic thresholds,” Thomas said. “And discretionary incentives are used in highly competitive projects where there are explicit infrastructure needs or an explicit need to make a business case for locating in Arkansas and not elsewhere where they might be assessed.”
While those incentives include income tax credits and sales tax rebates, the most desirable incentive for a community showcasing the diverse aspects of Eureka Springs is the tourism incentive, Thomas said.
“We have a tourism incentive that may apply to certain projects considering Eureka Springs,” he said. “Different criteria must be met and eligible attractions include cultural or historical sites, recreation or entertainment facilities, theme parks, amusement parks, different types of educational centers and even in some scenarios, educational facilities. accommodation based on a few different criteria.
“This tourism program offers sales tax credits that can be used, as well as income tax credits for a period of five years, which could be something, as companies look at different tourist attractions, to keep Keep in mind that there is a tourism incentive that is hosted here at AEDC in conjunction with the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism that can help offset some costs for businesses.
Martin said the group appreciated the overview of available incentives, particularly in relation to tourism. She also said it was important for the city’s economic development team to continue working with other cities in Carroll County.
“We work very closely with all the mayors in the county…it’s all about economic development and how we can grow the county,” Martin said. “So we like to not just think in a Eureka Springs silo just because we know our strengths and we also know our weaknesses.
“Mayor [Butch Berrys] the objective is to diversify our economy, not to depend so much on tourism. And what COVID has done is prove to us that we are that exact place where people want to live, work and play.
Martin also told AEDC representatives that she felt Carroll County was the perfect place to attract film studios.
“When we look at incentives, we like to think of it as a county-wide basis,” she said. “So, for example, I know there are film incentives under the AEDC, and we think that’s a perfect place for a film studio or for filming and incentives specifically for the development of the workforce and that component of the incentives that hires Arkansans to do the post- and pre-production.
“So it’s not irrelevant that we can’t work together and in the opportunity zone in Berryville, put a studio and a music studio up there and then with employees, we’re all going to benefit. . So we kind of think in terms of the county assets that we have and what we have together.