by Jim Hunt – author, speaker, consultant
As I landed in Little Rock, Arkansas, I ordered an Uber ride and was met by a lovely young woman who had been driving for Uber for about two years.
I asked her how she liked Little Rock and her face lit up. She explained that she had lived in Fort Worth, Texas for about fifteen years and had returned to Little Rock a few years ago. She said she liked the ‘small town feel’ of Little Rock and had lots of friends in the city. This surprised me since Little Rock has around 200,000 residents and the region is close to 800,000 people!
Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas and was named after a rock formation along the Arkansas River that was named ‘La Petite Roche’ by the French in 1799. One thing that immediately becomes clear when you enter downtown Little Rock is the numerous bridges across the Arkansas River. They are lit up at night and are a very prominent part of the city. The weather was pleasant and reached nearly 70 on the day of my arrival. In talking to some people at the hotel, they explained that it rarely snows and winters are mild.
I was in Little Rock to speak to the Arkansas Municipal League Winter Conference and over 400 city officials were registered at the conference. Arkansas has over 500 cities and towns and the majority are under 10,000 in population. Many of these small towns suffer from the same types of problems that face cities in West Virginia. Dilapidated housing, vacant buildings and failing infrastructure are common in many of the cities and towns and money is limited. Arkansas also has issues with the abuse of opioid drugs and I shared with them some of the things that are happening in West Virginia to combat this epidemic.
The audience was enthusiastic and stayed until the end, even though I was the last speaker of the conference.
I did a book signing for my new book, “The Amazing City – 7 Steps to Creating an Amazing City”, and got to meet many of the Arkansas city officials. It is always amazing to me to hear of the connections to West Virginia from people I meet across the country. Several people came up to me and said that they were born in West Virginia or had relatives living in West Virginia.
After my speech, I took some time to walk around downtown Little Rock and got to see some of the sites in the city. I stopped into the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which is in a large building along the Arkansas River. The staff was very welcoming and gave me a good description of the various activities conducted by the Chamber.
One of the premier businesses in Little Rock is the Dassault Falcon Jet company that employs over 1,800 employees. The Bill Clinton Presidential Library is also located downtown and extends out over the river in a modern building that draws thousands of visitors each year.
On my way back to the hotel, I walked along the river in what is an excellent display of public art. There are numerous places to sit and enjoy the river and there are park facilities for children. Public art is essential to quality of life in any city, and Little Rock has embraced this concept with hundreds of statues and sculptures throughout the city. I was very impressed with the cleanliness and beauty of the city and look forward to my next visit to Little Rock.