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High-speed internet flowing to rural Arkansas

Broadband is continuing to expand in rural Arkansas with Augusta and Stuttgart now delivering fiber high-speed internet services to local residents through the state’s grant program.

Ritter Communications is providing fiber for home access to residents in the two cities. The company also announced last week it would expand fiber to businesses in Lonoke.

The gigabit internet speeds are making Augusta Mayor Jeff Collins happy.

“High-speed internet access is essential to the health, education, economic growth and well-being of our community,” Collins said. “Ritter Communications worked earlier this year to provide telecommunications services for our businesses, so we are thrilled to partner with them again.”

In Stuttgart, economic development coordinator David Leech said the city will receive a $6.1 million grant.

The Arkansas Rural Connect Broadband Grants are funded by the CARES Act and state funds.

Metroplan has released a new report, The Little Rock Regional Economy in 2021, outlining economic trends. The report describes data during the past year and looks toward the near future.

Here are a few of its findings:

The regional unemployment rate has improved after peaking at 11.6% in April. Pulaski County has seen higher unemployment than surrounding counties. However, labor force participation has fallen by more in the region’s outlying counties.

Retail sales were strong in 2020, particularly in the region’s suburban counties.

In the region’s large health sector, employment has recovered some jobs lost during the pandemic but remains lower than it was before covid-19 emerged.

After a downward blip in the April-June window, construction of single-family housing has accelerated, possibly owing to low interest rates and more concern for home environments in a time of social distancing.

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Bank OZK has received approval from state regulators to build a new solar facility at a yet-to-be announced location.

The bank said the plant will be the third-largest commercial solar facility dedicated to a private sector customer in the state, and it is expected to have generating capacity of 4.8-megawatts.

The $6 million investment will produce enough renewable energy to power its recently completed corporate headquarters in Little Rock and up to 40 more bank offices in Arkansas.

“This is the largest investment in renewable energy by an Arkansas-based financial services company,” said Tim Hicks, Chief Credit and Administrative Officer at Bank OZK. “We are pleased to play a leading role investing in sustainable and clean energy, which will provide stable electrical power at a predictable price well into the foreseeable future.”

Scenic Hill Solar of North Little Rock will develop and oversee construction of the plant.

Business leaders and economic development officials in Arkansas can now register for the mid-South basic economic development course scheduled for April 5-8 in Little Rock.

The course helps leaders develop the fundamentals of economic development so they can help their communities meet the competitive challenges they face in fostering economic advancement. The course is the first step toward professional certification for those new to economic development.

Course work is designed for community leaders who participate in community economic development at all levels: local, regional, state and federal. The course includes elected officials, government agency staff, planners, utility and transportation personnel, business leaders, real estate developers, other community volunteers, educators and chamber or economic development organization professionals and their staff.

Topics include business expansion and retention, financing, marketing, workforce development and site selection, among others. The course is accredited by the International Economic Development Council, the nation’s largest membership organization for economic developers.

The event at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in midtown Little Rock is an in-person event sponsored by the Arkansas Economic Developers & Chamber Executives organization. Costs range from $580-$615.

Read the full story on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette website here.

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