Rural economic development program surveying retail and tourism employees

A pilot program focusing on rural economic development in six rural Arkansas counties is surveying employees to learn more about job training and experiences that can bolster businesses in the retail, tourism, entertainment and accommodations industries.

Create Bridges, a multistate program to help communities strengthen their retail, tourism, accommodations, and entertainment sectors, which in turn provide jobs and business opportunities that can boost rural economies, is seeking survey participants. In Arkansas, the efforts are organized by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Community, Professional and Economic Development unit.

In 2019, Create Bridges held forums in several counties throughout the state to gather information about community assets in the retail, tourism, entertainment and accommodations industries. They also interviewed business owners to learn about the opportunities, benefits and challenges of operating a business in rural Arkansas.

Now the project is focusing on gathering employee insight, asking survey participants about their current skills, areas in which they want to improve and training available to them. The survey also asks about the types of benefits employees appreciate in their jobs, such as flexible scheduling, training opportunities, childcare assistance and insurance. Finally, the survey askes participants about the factors affecting their ability to work, including limited transportation options, housing availability, and child or elder care access.

Employees in the six program counties can access the survey at The survey is anonymous and takes about 15 minutes to complete. Results will be used to create strategies to support these businesses including workforce trainings.

Julianne Dunn, economic development instructor for the Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service, encouraged employees to participate in the program.

“The employee perspective will be invaluable to identifying training and policy opportunities to promote the flourishing of these types of businesses,” Dunn said.

Create Bridges — an acronym for Celebrating Retail, Accommodations, Tourism, and Entertainment by Building Rural Innovations and Developing Growth Economies — has already held community forums and a retail academy for regional leaders.

The program was established in October 2018 in two regions in Arkansas. The 3Cs Region includes Howard, Little River and Sevier counties, while the Ozark Foothills Region is made up of Fulton, Izard and Sharp counties.

To learn more about Create Bridges, visit or contact Dunn at [email protected].