I grew up just outside Little Rock in Benton. We were never well off, usually quite the opposite, but Little Rock always gave me inspiration. It was a place where you could go and do great things, build a career, and make a name for yourself. Outside of moving to a major costal city, Little Rock was the only place I even considered moving to after graduating from college.
It was the same response that I saw from people all across the state and even the surrounding region. Little Rock was a beacon of hope, especially as the rural economies around Arkansas dried up.
It was also a safe haven for people of all types. Regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or economic background, Little Rock would embrace you with open arms and you could find a place in the city. That cannot be said for the vast majority of Arkansas, so people came to Little Rock in droves seeking that sense of belonging.
Then something happened. Little Rock started to become an undesirable place to be. My friend Rex Nelson wrote an editorial on this recently in the Democrat Gazette:
“I understand that the future of the city will be defined by its ability to attract talented people. And folks with talent increasingly want the urban vibe that can only be found downtown. Leaders of the past can whine all they want while drinking at the big round tables in the men’s grill at their country clubs. They would be better served by understanding what the leaders of the future desire.”
It was something that stuck with me. I had for a couple of years debated internally about running for city director, and this line is what pushed me over the edge.
Six years ago I left a decent paying job to work to help small businesses, mostly in the restaurant industry, succeed. I believed at the time that a private sector push with the mentality of giving far more back than anyone puts in was needed. We have done great work, we have made several millions in impact to the local food industry telling the story of the Little Rock food scene to over 1.5 million individual people in Arkansas and folks from all 50 states and 198 countries.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this I started noticing a troubling trend. The folks who once inspired by Little Rock, viewed it as the only logical place to go in the area, suddenly were looking elsewhere. Little Rock began losing out talented people, bright minds, and the future of the city to places like Northwest Arkansas, Memphis, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, and surrounding areas.
The sad part is, I understand why. I am lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Northwest Arkansas and really dig in to see how communities like Bentonville and Fayetteville are attracting young talented people. They engage with the community and business leaders, they empower folks who desire to make the community better, and they work daily to inspire everyone about the future.
We need that in Little Rock. I realized no matter how hard I pushed at it from the private sector, if we didn’t have city leaders trying to do the same thing on a bigger scale then we will just continue to lose out to surrounding communities. It is why I decided to run for the city director position.
Thankfully I am in Ward 1, a district that includes our primary tourism, financial, and commerce sectors with downtown along with much of our city’s transportation and manufacturing areas. It also has long been that haven for people of every type to come into Little Rock and feel welcomed.
We have all the makings of a great city. We have almost everything we need to get there. We just need to give people a reason to believe in Little Rock. To believe that together we can make this city a place people want to be.
Believing in Little Rock starts with Downtown and the rest of Ward 1. More people pass through Ward 1 daily than all other areas of the city combined. Through tourism, work, entertainment, and transportation this district impacts more people daily than the entire population of Little Rock. We have to have an area that engages with folks by treating everyone with dignity and respect while listening to them, we have to empower those who want to make the city better, and we have to inspire the next generation to call Little Rock home.