Civic Alliance invites governor to experience

By Morgan Zimmerman

In 2021, the leaders of three Morrilton area civic groups recognized that big things were coming down the pike for their town and the surrounding area. “We were dreaming about how we could all come together to serve the Morrilton community,” Rotarian Jenny Knight said. From that dream, the Morrilton Civic Alliance (MCA) was born. Five of Morrilton’s civic clubs now meet quarterly as a group to network, fellowship, and to hear updates from one another.

The Morrilton Civic Alliance gathered March 2 and the keynote speaker was Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Petit Jean State Bank President Charles Penick (Lions Club, from left), Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce Interim President Stephanie Lipsmeyer (Rotary Club), Edward Jones Branch Office Administrator Jenny Knight (Rotary President Elect), Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and Edward Jones Financial Advisor Collin Cahill (Rotary Club). Photos by Donna Evans.

Morrilton Rotary Club, Lions Club, Kiwanis Club, GFWC Adelaide Club, and Century League of Morrilton members all make up the Morrilton Civic Alliance. At each meeting, one club takes the lead to plan the program. Earlier this year, Knight had a chance meeting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson at a bakery in Little Rock. “I thought afterwards how great it would be if the governor was able to come to our town, see how we are coming together to serve Morrilton, and share a meal with us,” she said. She made a general appearance request through the website and was delighted when his office reached out to make arrangements for him to visit Morrilton.

Fresh off of the Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Northwest Arkansas, the governor attended the March 2 meeting of the MCA at the University of Arkansas Community College in Morrilton (UACCM), and after hearing updates from each of the clubs, he wasted no time before congratulating the city for hosting the Class A State Basketball Tournament and on their efforts in planning for the 2024 solar eclipse. When talks about forming the alliance first began, Knight said, “Top of mind was the upcoming 2024 eclipse and how we might generate significant economic revenue for our town that would be beneficial to all of our clubs and the Morrilton community that we serve.”

Morrilton is along the path of totality for the eclipse and will be one of the best places in the state to view the astronomical event. As tourism is one of the top industries in the state, the MCA, along with city and county leaders, are joining the Morrilton Eclipse Planning Committee in its efforts to prepare the town to put its best foot forward for the hundreds of thousands who are expected to travel to central Arkansas to view the eclipse. “The MCA is collaborating with Gary Gibson at Southern Christian Home to host/facilitate a pop-up village where families can set up camp for the 2024 eclipse event,” Knight said. “We are working in conjunction with the City of Morrilton, the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations to compliment the planning committee’s offerings during this historic event.”

In addition to tourism, Gov. Hutchinson focused much of his talk on planning for the new economy and what he called “wins for 2022,” which include investments in workforce education, infrastructure, new economy jobs, and strengthening Arkansas families. He pointed out the major role that Morrilton’s community college will play in that effort. “I came here when you opened up part of your facility [the Workforce Training Center], and I bragged about the workforce training that is done here that benefits our entire state, and I applaud you for that. It’s an exciting part of your future,” Hutchinson said. 

“Whenever you’re looking at workforce education, Morrilton and the community college here, this campus, is leading our state into the future and providing the foundation for those new economy jobs that we need.”

He went on to talk about the very specific need for expanding broadband access across the state and the infrastructure updates that come along with that.

Most notably, he announced that Arkansas is taking a proactive approach to get ahead of the curve on those infrastructure improvements. “This summer the University of Arkansas Community College here at Morrilton will get $1 million to be able to train those workers in laying that broadband technology in the ground,” Hutchinson said. This investment will help address the “drain of resources” on workers with the technical skills that can get that broadband fiber laid as other states also receive funding to upgrade broadband access.

“We are one of three community colleges in the state that are working with officials to lay out a plan for training technicians to expand the fiber footprint,” UACCM Chancellor Lisa Willenberg said. “Discussions are in the very early stages, but with our proven track record and experience in creating programs quickly in order to meet industry needs, we know we are the right partner to develop a highly skilled workforce for ‘new economy jobs’ in Arkansas. We are excited to have infrastructure funding coming to our campus for this purpose.”

In previous rounds, $2 million in grant funding has been awarded to expand Conway County broadband access, which has reached about 5,000 residents. “There is more work to do, but it is essential to be able to attract the entrepreneurs, the small businesses, and to give the quality of life to your citizens that is needed,” Hutchinson said. 

For more information about the Morrilton Civic Alliance, contact the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce at 501.354.2393.