CDI group visits Camden again

The Community Development Institute holds a meeting with local residents during August.

— The University of Central Arkansas’ Community Development Institute recently returned to Camden and published its 2019 Advanced Year Report for the city.

CDI is a three-year program for people that work in the realm of economic development for their cities or towns to come to UCA once a year for a week and learn more about community and economic development. Experienced practitioners provide attendees with practical tools and techniques that they can take back to their communities to make an immediate difference. After going through the program, those students have a choice to graduate and participate in what is called an “Advanced Year Class.” The Advanced Year conducts online research, focus groups, a driving tour and informal interviews with residents during the week of CDI 2019.

The executive summary published by the group states, ” Communities in Arkansas were invited to apply for the unique opportunity to become the CDI 2019 Advanced Year community, and Camden was selected. Camden has great assets and is doing many things very well. The unique attractions, vibrant downtown, three school districts, various community events, and robust defense industry are signs of visionary leadership in the community.It is also a mark of leadership to look to the future, engage your citizenry, and tapstrategic resources that can help move your community forward.

“The challenges and opportunities identified by community leaders in Camden and the surrounding area are shared by many other communities in our state and nation, and the community now has a unique chance to address these challenges and opportunities moving forward. Our goal is that this process will equip the community of Camden to become a model for the nation as it identifies and implements the priorities identified in this report to realize its full potential and desired future

In the digital world we live in today, people research communities online before visiting them so the CDI 2019 Advanced Year team researched Camden online to gather insights about the community. When the team came together during the week of CDI, they went to Camden and interacted with citizens and community leaders, participated in a guided driving tour, and hosted a focus group session on key community and economic development interest areas. At the end of the week, the team presented their findings to the community during a public presentation, and finally pulled all of their insights and future recommendations together into this report

“This is not a comprehensive analysis of all economic sectors of Camden, but it does represent a fresh look at the community from several outsiders who brought community and economic development experience and expertise into this setting The CDI 2019 Advanced Year team found that the citizens, leaders, organizations, and businesses in Camden have much to be proud of. So the recommendations found in this report will build on the good work that the community is already doing.

We hope this report serves as a spark for future growth in Camden!”

During the research phase, the class explored four different roles: A famly with young children looking to relocate, a tourist, and industrial prospect, and an entrepreneur looking to establish a new business.

The team listed the pros and cons for each demographic.

With Leadership Camden, OPED, chamber membership applications being some of the things to appeal to a young entrepreneur and Downtown Camden Master Plan not being online, real estate information being limited on leasing, and a need for more more networking and mentoring opportunities being listed as cons. The tax rate of 11.25% was also mentioned as a deterrent.

According to the study, an industrial prospect would be attracted to Camden’s diverse government leadership, two railroads and its single building permit application. It also lists two industrial organizations; The Camden Area Industrial Development Corporation and the Camden Defense Industry Consortium.

Cons include no information on city site for rezoning, the need for a digital building permit and the heavy text of the OPED website, as well as the sunset for the economic development tax.

A family with children looking to relocate would be attracted to the active and vibrant website of the city, three school districts, The First Friday Market and availability of Section 8 housing. While that same family would be deterred by negative social media reviews on public spaces, lack of programs like the El Dorado Promise and the fact that Harmony Grove needs higher end housing.

A tourist looking to vacation in Camden would enjoy the multiple historic sites and entertainment festivals such as First Friday and the Daffodil Festival, while enjoying a clean city with multi use trails. While the tourist would be put off by high crime rate and lack of branded signage.

The report ended by focusing on “Golden Opportunities” which are working well and continue to grow such as, The TRACE, First Friday and the Daffodil Festival, and the defense industry.