A team of Clinton School students has spent the 2019-20 academic year working with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension to research innovative solutions for maintaining and developing infrastructure in rural areas of Arkansas.
The loss of businesses and declining populations in rural areas make it difficult for many towns and counties to finance much-needed infrastructure investments. Through surveys and interviews with local officials, the students sought to determine and prioritize rural infrastructure challenges across the state while compiling appropriate ways to respond.
The team will present its findings online on Tuesday, April 21, at 2 p.m.
Team members include Marlie Ball (Gravette, Ark.), Drew Coker (Russellville, Ark.), Brock Hyland (Waco, Texas), and J. Dillon Pitts (Pearl, Miss.). The students worked closely with project supervisor Julianne Dunn, an economic development instructor for the Division of Agriculture’s Community, Professional, and Economic Development unit. Dunn is also a 2010 Clinton School graduate.
“Rural infrastructure impacts citizens’ lives every day, from the roads they drive on to the water they drink,” Dunn said. “The purpose of this research study was to improve quality of life and foster economic and community development in rural Arkansas by identifying specific infrastructure challenges and recommending evidence-based responses for local and county governments to undertake.”
In January, the team sent an online survey to mayors, quorum court members, and county judges in 20 Arkansas counties, seeking their input on infrastructure needs and challenges. The 20 counties were Boone, Calhoun, Clark, Cleveland, Crittenden, Dallas, Hot Spring, Independence, Johnson, Lafayette, Lincoln, Monroe, Newton, Nevada, Prairie, Searcy, Sevier, Union, Van Buren, and Woodruff.
Local officials who completed the survey and agreed to be interviewed then discussed in greater detail the infrastructure needs in their areas. The team also interviewed officials from the Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service offices in the surveyed counties.
“Getting input from local officials was great,” Coker said. “They offered unique perspectives and a technical understanding of what was happening. They were extremely knowledgeable of the specific problems and fixes that were needed. Many of them had already thought about different funding mechanisms.”
Based on findings from the surveys and interviews, the team researched national practices for rural infrastructure maintenance and development. The team will focus on recommendations for solid waste, drinking water, wastewater and recycling systems, and will offer suggestions for different funding mechanisms.
“We have looked at a number of different national programs and organizations,” Coker said. “One is the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, which is a group of economists that work on community economics and rural development. We have also looked at programs in surrounding states, as well as utilized the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development mission area resources and past Extension publications.”
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.