Governor Hutchinson's Weekly Address: Preserving the Main Streets of Arkansas
LITTLE ROCK – The COVID-19 pandemic has threatened the survival of many small businesses in Arkansas, and today I’d like to share good news about a grant program that will help. It is the Arkansas Historic Preservation and Main Street Arkansas grants.
First, though, I’d like to discuss the good news about our unemployment rate. For months before the pandemic, our unemployment rate had remained at historic lows and always below the national average. As COVID-19 slowed the economy, our rate jumped to 10.8 percent unemployment. But we have seen impressive improvement. In July, our rate was back to 7.1 percent, which is about three percentage points below the national average.
This is encouraging for the many cities that participate in the Main Street Arkansas and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The mission of these two programs is to help revitalize the historic commercial centers that are essential to the economic health of many communities. The cities will receive grants to help jumpstart their economies as we move out of the pandemic.
Main Street America surveyed its members this spring to assess the effect of the coronavirus, including the likelihood the members would have to close shop if the disruption continued. Of the 213 Arkansas business owners who responded, 32 percent said they likely would be out of business within three months. Thirty percent reported they might have to close after five months.
Jackie Wolven is executive director of Main Street Eureka Springs. The results of that survey are a good representation of what has happened in that historic town. Five stores didn’t survive. But she is totally optimistic about the future. Jackie and the other leaders will identify artisans and business people to put in the empty store fronts, then release the grants after the first of the year. As she put it, Eureka Springs is ready to rock and roll.
Small business are the anchors of our communities. Many of the mom-and-pop shopkeepers grew up in the town where they now own a store. They are part of the social fabric of our small towns as well as key to the towns’ economic health.
The Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism supports these communities through annual Downtown Revitalization Grants. Department Secretary Stacy Hurst recently announced that her agency would more than double its funding to $559,000 for the next year. Funding for the grants comes through the Real Estate Transfer Tax. The grants range from $3,000 to $25,000.
Our small towns and the owners who do business there are a link to our history and a reminder of where we came from. They are the building blocks of our economy. Main Street Arkansas and the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program are standing with them to secure the future.