Arkadelphia resident Dr. Lewis Shepherd has been named the chairman of the Metro Little Rock Alliance for 2017.

Arkadelphia resident Dr. Lewis Shepherd has been named the chairman of the Metro Little Rock Alliance for 2017.
According to Shepherd, MLRA is a membership-based marketing organization comprised of 12 counties in Central Arkansas. Clark County joins the counties of Conway, Faulkner, Garland, Grant, Hot Spring, Jefferson, Lonoke, Perry, Pulaski, Saline and White in making up the Metro Little Rock Alliance.
“This was the first large-scale attempt in Arkansas at regional economic development,” said Shepherd.
Shepherd referred to the cities of Camden, El Dorado and Magnolia forming the Golden Triangle and merging their resources and energy together to do things for Southwest Arkansas.
“This was an attempt by 11 counties in Central Arkansas to merge together,” Shepherd said.
While the MLRA was formulated in 2005, Clark County petitioned to join and was added as the 12th county in 2011. Shepherd noted that Clark County is the county that is farthest south
“We are the county that is farthest south,” said Shepherd.
According to Shepherd, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe had stated that the majority of funding for economic development would not go to one county operation, but rather to regions.
“When you stop and think about it, it really makes a lot of sense,” said Shepherd.
Noting the acquisition of Shandong Sun Paper, Shepherd said the project is too large to be solely a Clark County operation.
“You’ve got to have folks from outside of Clark County. From the building of the facility, to the operation of the facility,” said Shepherd.
By approaching economic development from a regional standpoint, Shepherd said it helps to insure that companies and industries have the labor force and skills necessary only carry about the industry’s intended purpose.
Headquartered in Little Rock, Shepherd said the MLRA works on ethical principles.
“Whenever a company wishes to come into the State of Arkansas, they will publish it through the MLRA and they will send it down to all the members of the board of directors and to all of the organizations and their professionals in each office,” Shepherd explained.
Based on the information the company submits to the MLRA, Shepherd said each member will look in their area to see if they have a facility that meets the company’s request.
“There will be support from the MLRA. If Clark or Garland has this facility, we’ll try to help them get ready for the site visit,” said Shepherd.
According to Shepherd, it is against the MLRA’s policy for counties to recruit companies from counties within the MLRA.
Each county’s economic development office are assessed dues every year to help fund the MLRA. Dues are determined by the county’s population.
Since its inception 12 years ago, the MLRA has created 15,037 jobs, created a payroll of $516,201,921 and awarded $78,732,831 in grant money.
The organization has received a total of 580 project inquiries, held 304 project visits and completed 132 projects.
In addition, the number of individuals to receive their high school diploma or GED has increased by 12 percent, while an increase of 33 percent has been reported for individuals receiving their associate’s degree. The total growth for a bachelor’s degree has risen by 19 percent.
Based on the statistics, Shepherd reiterated the importance of regions coming together and working together to advance economic development.
According to Shepherd, the local economic development office initially sent Shepherd and Bill Wright to be the representatives for the MLRA.
At the time, Wright was the chairman of the Alliance, while Shepherd was the chairman of the Economic Development Corporation of Clark County.
Eric Hughes, who eventually took the helm as the chairman of the Alliance, replaced Wright on the MLRA.
After serving as treasurer and vice-chairman of the MLRA, Shepherd was appointed to the role of chairman.
“What we are looking at now is intensifying services in that, instead of being just a clearinghouse for prospects, the MLRA wants to be a resource and almost a hands-on assistance and support system to the economic developers who run these county economic development offices,” Shepherd said.
Based on the current market for site visits and requests for information, Shepherd this pro-active approach is going to be very crucial.

Shepherd is hopeful that requests for information through the MLRA will pick up in the coming months.