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Leadership Arkansas class gains insights on the future in Pine Bluff visit



Arkansas – For Little Rock construction executive Jill Floyd, learning about the different industry sectors that network in Arkansas is crucial to gaining perspective on how the state operates.

Leadership Arkansas gives the director of community outreach for CDI Contractors the opportunity to glean that knowledge.

Floyd said she was excited “to go out and explore the different areas around the state, understand what their issues are, the challenges are, and what things they’re doing well, quite frankly, and building a network of folks I can lean on and also help as we all progress in our careers in service to the state.”

Floyd is one of 31 members in Leadership Arkansas’ 15th class who toured Pine Bluff from Wednesday through Friday and took a course on highway management in a city that provides a corridor to almost every spot in the state. Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff, who graduated from last year’s class, said this is the first time Leadership Arkansas has come to the city.

“It’s very important to understand the region that Arkansas is, how each corner of the state contributes to the overall economy, and how the issues that are in southeast Arkansas are different from those that may be in northwest Arkansas, and so they begin to develop a sentiment for that,” Watley said. “In their track, whether they’re public leaders or financial leaders or whatever, they understand how the state network is.”

The Arkansas Department of Transportation is a key component of the curriculum. ADOT Deputy Director Randy Ort and state transportation commissioners, including Chairman Robert Moore of Arkansas City, educated the business leaders on their place in government and challenged the class to prioritize needs for the system through a group exercise.

“We have all these needs identified, which is a big number, but have this much available,” Ort said. “That’s the big challenge for the commission: How do you prioritize the projects? You’ve got $1,000 worth of needs but only $500; how are you going to prioritize?

“What we’ve done is give them $10 million worth of projects and given them a $750 million budget to spend, so they’re putting together a plan on how they’re going to spend that money. Are they going to spend it on bridges? Are they going to spend more on high-priority corridors? Are they going to take care of system preservation? It’s a very interesting exercise.”

Leadership Arkansas, founded by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, takes business leaders from across the state and helps them take a comprehensive view of the economic and political challenges Arkansas faces. Nearly 800 people have graduated from the program.

The 2020-21 group first met in September in Fairfield Bay and has since met in Jonesboro to study agriculture and outdoor life, the Little Rock area in December to learn about government and military life, and El Dorado and southwest Arkansas in January to examine natural resources, defense and industrial development.

They’ll meet again next month in Hot Springs to learn about tourism, history and revitalization and head to Northwest Arkansas in April to examine regional development before graduation May 21 in Little Rock.

Watley said the visit gives Pine Bluff a chance to roll out the red carpet to a diverse group of Arkansas business leaders.

“They can go back and empower them to be able to converse in a positive manner about the things going on in Pine Bluff,” Watley said. “So far they’ve been impressed, by and large, by the way Go Forward Pine Bluff is working in the community, our private-public partnerships and the progress we’ve made in a short amount of time. They also understand our challenges. So we’re talking about, with those leaders, the things we hope to address.”

Floyd said business leaders in Central Arkansas tend to be more “inwardly focused” on their region because it’s the most populated area. She said she hopes to take the information from Leadership Arkansas to help her continue leading in her field.

“As a woman in construction, it’s continuing to provide opportunities for other women and other minorities to come into the space, to make sure the space itself is more diverse and welcoming, and that we’re also, quite frankly, moving into future technologies that will help us move forward,” Floyd said. “Also, introducing the space to people who don’t necessarily see it as a career path.”