EDA AmeriCorps VISTA Supports Economic Development Efforts in East Arkansas
East Arkansas Planning & Development District (EAPDD) is a regional planning and development agency serving a 12-county area in eastern Arkansas. This district includes Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Lawrence, Lee, Mississippi, Phillips, Poinsett, Randolph, and St. Francis counties. EAPDD develops programming that addresses areas such as unemployment and distressed economic conditions in their region. To carry out such long-term research and planning functions, EAPDD joined the EDA VISTA Corps program to onboard an AmeriCorps VISTA member to cultivate community buy-in in rural communities.
EAPDD’s selected VISTA member, Camille Labatut, has built local capacity through the creation of an economic database. Data collected includes figures related to top regional employers, business inventories, student enrollment trends, total number of police calls, number of residential water hookups, and community center utilization figures. This data enables EAPDD and the community to better understand their local assets and trends. Through the development of this database, the region is laying the groundwork to recruit new businesses to the region, to grow existing enterprise, and to bolster the local workforce.
This extensive database will allow EAPDD to operate in conjunction with local community efforts and to establish suitable development strategies to meet regional goals. The broad and intensive nature of the initial database means the tool will require minimal upkeep while providing maximum service for future needs. To date, specific research derived from the database has already sparked stakeholder interest to collaborate on projects related to a community garden project, a cooperative grocery store, and a local public hospital.
Resources and grants leveraged during the span of this VISTA project are used to assist in taking the data that Labatut has compiled to create targeted industry analyses, outreach materials, and additional engagement resources in partnership with local leadership teams. These resources allow community stakeholders to access raw economic data with easy-to-understand data breakdowns of regional trends. The leveraged funds stem from a USDA Rural Business Development Grant. In total, this project will leverage $152,010 in cash resources and over $124,600 in in-kind contributions.
When asked about why she became an AmeriCorps VISTA, Labatut responded, “Becoming a VISTA was an easy choice to make because volunteering has become such a fulfilling aspect of my life, I couldn’t imagine passing up the opportunity to make a regional impact for thousands of people.”
Camille Labatut is an Honors Student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe where she majors in Political Science. Camille has been living and working in Northeast Arkansas while fulfilling a year of service as an AmeriCorps VISTA. Before joining AmeriCorps, Camille spent many years volunteering through her local animal shelter, 4-H Club, and Pointe Coupee Service Leaders. Recently Labatut interned for award-winning public defender Robert Noel Esq. and for Louisiana State Senator Michael Walsworth. Camille’s passion is preserving and promoting culture and education.