Texarkana’s Post-COVID Economic Rebound Strategies
A Regional Opportunity
A year after the coronavirus pandemic first drove the U.S. economy into the deepest downturn in generations, there is a robust debate about how local communities can position themselves for a brighter future. At the City of Texarkana, Texas, we are fortunate to have survived the past year facing numerous disasters at once, and even more grateful to look ahead to what is in our bright future at such a time as this. One of the things that is most notable about the team I work with at the City of Texarkana is that when the going gets tough, we keep going, and this past year has been no different. While there is still much work to be done in our city, county and community, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight a few strategies Texarkana leaders are focusing on at the local, regional and state levels to catalyze economic development post COVID-19 that will lead to meaningful, long-term growth for our region.
First, in Texarkana, Texas, we are working to develop a COVID-19 recovery and resilience strategy for small businesses through a partnership with Ash+Lime and the Antero Group, two Texas-based consulting groups. While the study is primarily focused along the New Boston Road Corridor, the recommendations and guiding principles are applicable city-wide. An early recommendation includes working with the Northeast Texas Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to provide ongoing technical assistance, tailored market research and assisting small business owners with grant/loan opportunities related to COVID-19 recovery stimulus funding. The Northeast Texas SBDC is a tremendous, underutilized resource, funded in part by an agreement with the United States Small Business Association (SBA) and hosted by Northeast Texas Community College. In response to the recommendation, we are working on a lease agreement to host the Northeast Texas Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to provide additional office space in City Hall. This opportunity will work to create a “one stop shop” for small business owners to navigate SBA assistance and permitting processes all in one location.
Another important strategy is the focus on increasing our region’s broadband capacity that includes a private-public partnership being led at the state and county levels. Back in April, the Texas House passed HB-5 unanimously, which included $2 billion for broadband expansion across the state. The broadband expansion program’s goal is to develop an account to incentivize providers to get internet service to residents without it now. There are an estimated one million Texans and over 500,000 estimated Arkansans who do not have broadband access. Locally, fiber optic internet service is available to only 36% of Bowie County and 48% of Miller County residents. In a post-COVID-19 economy, connection to high-speed reliable internet is vital for our region to grow, especially if we expect to attract and retain talent in a growing remote work world. Regions such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, have even launched programs such as Remote Tulsa that recruit remote workers to their region with stipends, along with highlighting the region’s broadband access and quality of life. As we work to improve our region’s broadband, a similar model could work for Texarkana as we seek to bring back our best and brightest residents that now can return home thanks to remote work opportunities.
Finally, another strategy that I’m excited to share is a regional collaboration between AR-TX Regional Economic Development Inc. (REDI), our local colleges and universities and two cities for a business incubator in our region. While the concept goes by many names such as business accelerators, startup studios, etc., the common goal is the same: to create a space where like-minded folks can congregate, collaborate and create something new that launches future businesses for the next generation of Texarkana residents. Like the broadband initiative, this strategy will help Texarkana keep many of our best and brightest students who have been educated here and have the opportunity to launch their business ideas in our region. Currently, a core team of people are engaged in the effort using the Strategic Doing model that has taken our regional collaboration to a new level, thanks to Leadership Texarkana and willing participants. Look for more on this exciting initiative to be released soon as we develop plans for the new incubator space.
In conclusion, I am truly excited about the potential for our region in a post-COVID-19 economy and the opportunities that it will bring. While there are certainly challenges to overcome, our community has shown time and time again the resilience and determination it takes to remain strong and vibrant amidst adversity. I have no doubt our region will rise to the occasion once again and succeed in the post COVID-19 economy.