Representatives of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service and the Community Development Institute at the University of Central Arkansas came to Paris last week, took a look around and said later they were impressed.
The group was here to lay the groundwork for an August visit by a larger group composed on fourth-year students in the Community Development Institute. That group will spend a day collecting an online assessment of Paris and a second day of visits with residents and community leaders. After that, a meeting will be held to address pressing needs and opportunities.
Each year, CDI advanced students work with a community. Paris was chosen from a list of four other communities.
Last Friday’s visit began wth a driving tour of the town. Then, the group gathered at the Municipal Building for a discussion with several community leaders including Paris Mayor Daniel Rogers, Dr. Lee Lane, chair of the Paris Economic Development Council, Chester Koprovic, a Paris resident who is on the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Tonya Baumgarter, executive director of the Paris Area Chamber of Commerce and Bob Harper, the Logan County UA Extension Service agent.
Representing CDI were Josh Markham and Amy Whitehead. Also atteding was Dr. Mark Peterson of the Extension Service’s Community and Economic Development program.
“I’m really impressed with everything so far,” Markham said. “I think there’s a gold mine of potential here.”
“You have tremendous assets here,” Dr. Peterson said. “You have assets that other communities don’t have. We need to determine how we can leverage those assets.”
Topics touched on during the discussion included economic growth, retention of residents, development of the Courthouse Square, development of leadership and community development.
“Community development drives economic development,” Whitehead said.
Asked to voice hopes and dreams for the community, Koprovic said “I want Paris to become a destination. We have all the potential in the world. Paris also has to have strong leadership.” Koprovic also mentioned the need to develop and improve the Courthouse Square.
Rogers, in speaking about having more economic opportunity, said “I graduated from high school in 2001. I now see 10 or less of those 70 people I graduated with. They’ve gone somewhere else.”
The group continued their discussion while working through lunch and then the meeting broke up. Participants from Paris were pleased with the discussion.
“I thought it was good,” Rogers said. “I’m excited about this process. I want to see what we can learn from them that will help us make progress for our town.”
Lane expressed the belief that the visit will produce something Paris can use.
“I think we can get something useful from this,” she said. “We’re going to hear from people who have taken their guidance and done something with it. I think we can too.”
“I thought it went well,” Koprovic said. “There were several things Paris has that other communities don’t have. There were also some things they were impressed with.”
The group will return on Tuesday, Aug. 5.