In Sunday's column I outlined current trends that play to Little Rock's benefit: tremendous growth in the financial sector as companies such as Bank OZK and Simmons Bank become major regional players; the steady growth of the health-care sector, which will only speed up as the nation ages; the fact that the Little Rock area has become a distribution hub at a time when the supply chain has never been more important.

There's also Little Rock's growing role as a financial technology hub and the success of high-tech companies such as Apptegy. Add in the continued expansion of the dining sector and investors making a big bet on the comeback of the retail and entertainment sectors with new owners for Breckenridge Village, Riverdale Shopping Center and Pavilion in the Park.

I believe we'll see strong job growth for at least the next decade. The question is whether additional workers will live in Little Rock or instead fight the traffic jams each morning to come to the city from places such as Benton, Bryant, Conway, Cabot, Austin and Ward.

As has been the case for years, the answer to that question revolves around getting the crime rate down and improving the quality of public schools. In a recent speech to dozens of commercial real estate agents, I pointed out five areas the city's business and civic leadership must focus on in the years ahead. Those areas are:

Public safety--The first priority of government at any level is to protect its citizens. City government in Little Rock has failed its citizens miserably by allowing dozens of vacancies to go unfilled in the Little Rock Police Department. Meanwhile, a dysfunctional chief of police was allowed to stay on the job far too long, creating chaos among the ranks.

It's about more than bringing down murder rates. It's about enforcing traffic laws in a city where people feel they can go 20 miles per hour above the speed limit and run traffic lights with impunity due to police understaffing. It's about having officers walking beats downtown to deal with aggressive panhandling. It's about slowing the epidemic of graffiti that has infected the city.

K-12 education--Michael Poore did a fine job as superintendent of the Little Rock School District prior to his retirement. The new superintendent, who comes to Arkansas from Mississippi, is an unknown quantity. We can only hope his tenure works out better than that of the out-of-state police chief the city hired.

The business community must become more active in supporting public schools through programs such as Ford Next Generation Learning. In addition to LRSD, that initiative is in the North Little Rock School District, Pulaski County Special School District and Jacksonville North Pulaski School District. The program exposes students to a multitude of careers available in Arkansas.

Higher education--Great cities tend to have great universities. For too long, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has been a stepchild within the UA System and at the state Capitol. Little Rock's leaders must convince members of the UA Board of Trustees, the next governor and legislators how important it is that Arkansas' capital city has a high-performing university.

The business community also must understand how critical Little Rock's two historically Black colleges--Arkansas Baptist College and Philander Smith College--are to building the African American middle class in a city that's more than 40 percent Black. Businesses must do a better job supporting Arkansas Baptist and Philander Smith with their contributions.

Infill development--It's time for developers to slow the steady march west out Chenal Parkway and Cantrell Road. They instead should look at revitalizing properties in older parts of the city. The signs of that happening are encouraging. In addition to new owners of the three shopping centers mentioned above, two of the largest towers downtown have new owners who are promising to spend millions of dollars on those properties.

The next step is encouraging people to live downtown. The two tallest buildings on Main Street, Boyle and Donaghey, still sit empty. The former AT&T facility on Capitol Avenue is also empty. They would make great apartment or condo complexes.

Get back to being the "city in a park"--At one time, Little Rock promoted itself as the "city in a park" due to its large number of parks. Unfortunately, a lack of staffing prevents proper maintenance. In addition to increasing staff size so we can keep grass mowed and trash picked up, the time has come for the city to release detailed plans on how it will use acreage once devoted to golf at War Memorial Park and Hindman Park.

In the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, economic development is all about attracting and retaining talented people. Such highly educated workers are attracted to cities with good parks, walking trails, cycling trails and other outdoor recreational opportunities. It's an economic development imperative that Little Rock get this right.

As noted in Sunday's column, this state can't reach its potential unless the Little Rock metro area does well. The northwest Arkansas economy can't carry a whole state, especially at a time when more than two-thirds of counties are losing population.

Because the welfare of its largest city is so important to Arkansas as a whole (and because we already know Republicans will win all statewide races easily), the race for mayor of Little Rock is the most fascinating thing on the ballot in Arkansas this fall.

Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.

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31.08.2022

In Sunday's column I outlined current trends that play to Little Rock's benefit: tremendous growth in the financial sector as companies such as Bank OZK and Simmons Bank become major regional players; the steady growth of the health-care sector, which will only speed up as the nation ages; the fact that the Little Rock area has become a distribution hub at a time when the supply chain has never been more important.

There's also Little Rock's growing role as a financial technology hub and the success of high-tech companies such as Apptegy. Add in the continued expansion of the dining sector and investors making a big bet on the comeback of the retail and entertainment sectors with new owners for Breckenridge Village, Riverdale Shopping Center and Pavilion in the Park.

I believe we'll see strong job growth for at least the next decade. The question is whether additional workers will live in Little Rock or instead fight the traffic jams each morning to come to the city from places such as Benton, Bryant, Conway, Cabot, Austin and Ward.

As has been the case for years, the answer to that question revolves around getting the crime rate down and improving the quality of public schools. In a recent speech to dozens of commercial real estate agents, I pointed out five areas the city's business and civic leadership must focus on in the years ahead. Those areas are:

Public safety--The first priority of........

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