LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Officials in the northeastern Arkansas town of Newport are working to stop the “brain drain” of students who leave the area to attend college and never return.
The Newport Economic Development Commission is working with three University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service students this fall who plan to develop a database of graduates from Jackson County schools. The database will include the graduates’ current addresses, their careers and other information.
Officials will use that collection to recruit for businesses, make connections with potential donors on big projects and seek political pull across the state, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Sunday.
The commission’s director, Jon Chadwell, said it’s hard to get back young people who are lured away from a small town by a bigger city’s excitement, entertainment and job opportunities.
“Young people, after graduating, don’t think it’s exciting here,” Chadwell said. “They want to go out into the big world. But after they’ve been gone for four or five years, we may look a little better.
“We want to bring them home,” Chadwell said.
Once a bustling river town, Newport in the 1950s was ranked 10th in the nation in cotton production and 11th in soybeans, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture.
The town grew to 8,339 in 1980, but three major employers closed operations and 1,200 workers were left without jobs in the early 1990s, Chadwell said.
The U.S. Census counted 7,879 people in Newport in 2010 and 7,731 in a survey taken last year.
The town’s unemployment rate was 8.6 percent in June 2014, the latest statistics available from the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, higher than the statewide rate of 6.2 percent.
But Chadwell said Newport is not “a dying town.”
“Things are looking better,” he said.
In 2002, voters approved a countywide half percent sales tax earmarked for economic recruitment. And now, Chadwell and his commission want to help bring people back, using the project’s database. They believe people who have roots in the community are more likely than newcomers to return and build lives there.
The commission also hopes they could use the contact list for local fundraising efforts or use it to urge natives to contact state legislators about issues in Newport and Jackson County.
Shanell Ramson, of Columbia, South Carolina, is one of the students working on the project.
“We want to hit the ground running,” she said. “We want to lay the groundwork for creating an economic boon here. We hope, eventually, people will want to move back to Newport.”
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com