Create Bridges: Small Business - Big Rural Impact

Episode 12: Storytelling - The Impact of Sharing Your Story

February 25, 2021 Create Bridges AR Season 1 Episode 12
Create Bridges: Small Business - Big Rural Impact
Episode 12: Storytelling - The Impact of Sharing Your Story
Show Notes Transcript

On this Episode of CREATE BRIDGES, Hazelle Whited, program coordinator for Ozark Foothills, crosses the state to interview Keisha McKinney -  3Cs Region Steering Committee (RSC) member, CREATE LIFT contributor, and fan of the CREATE BRIDGES podcast. In this episode, the duo discusses how CREATE BRIDGES shares the story of rural business owners through the work of the Regional Steering Committees, the creation of the workforce training certificate program, and this podcast. 

Keisha McKinney
McKinney Media
3C's RSC Member/CREATE LIFT Contributor

Hazelle Whited
University of Arkasnas Division of Agriculture Community Professional Economic Development

For more information on CREATE BRIDGES visit
For more information on CREATE LIFT visit

Link to podcast

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Come join us, explore the impact of small business here in rural Arkansas.

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What challenges would you face? Who can help you meet those challenges? How do you get in touch with others like you?

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This is Create Bridges, Arkansas. And we invite you to come cross these bridges with us.

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Welcome to another episode of the Creat Bridges, Small Business, Big rural Impact.

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With me today is Keisha McKinney of McKinney Media Solutions, where she supports small businesses with our Digital Media Solutions,

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Keisha from the three CS, which, as you know, I'm from Ozarks Hills.

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But we're really excited to be able to have the three CS on the Ozark foothills side of the episode.

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Just to get an understanding of how things look from their perspective,

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but also to really explore how rural businesses in Arkansas kind of share some of their same challenges.

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And so, Keisha, thank you so much for coming with us today. Thanks for inviting me on.

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I agree. I'm excited about talking the bridge between the two areas and what we've learned together and learn from each other.

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Well, that brings me to the fact that you have actually been a part of create bridges for a while now.

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You're actually a regional steering committee member for the three C's and just kind

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of wanted to find out a little bit more about your involvement with Creat bridges.

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And actually, why did you. I'm sure you've got a busy schedule. Why did you decide to participate in this?

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Yeah. So somewhere along the way, I wish I could give you a really good date.

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I sat at a table and said yes to helping with some local economic development efforts here in severe county.

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And with that kind of morphed into a volunteer role helping lead to tourism efforts.

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And that's not been a formal role in this community. The Chamber of Commerce has had some things they do.

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A newly formed economic development area had some things that they do.

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And then, of course, tourism was part of a lot of different people's interests or maybe a few responsibilities in town,

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but had never been kind of a formal entity. And so coming out of some economic development efforts about three years ago was this discussion.

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And one of the effort areas that kind of came up out of some community conversations was tourism among eight or nine other things.

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So I just said, yes, I was a table captain at a conversation in the community.

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Isn't that what happens? You just say yes. And then suddenly, three years later, you're at a Creat Bridges Regional Steering Committee role.

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But when the opportunity came in a few years ago for the create bridges to apply for those grants,

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I was just part of someone who wrote a recommendation letter about things in our community and we were trying to do with the group that was applying.

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And then when we received it alongside you guys, I was just kind of somebody who came to those first conversations.

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And then as more formal things developed, like an official regional steering committee,

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I frankly probably gave one too many opinions and they were like, come on.

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So that's kind of how it formed. Well, you know, especially in rural communities.

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I mean, it is one of the if we see someone who is participating or is willing to talk about it or more importantly,

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who is really willing to throw up their sleeves and really get into it, we're going to grab you.

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We're saying, come on, because we need we need that enthusiasm and that support.

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I think that's oftentimes what businesses are lacking is usually like they're supported by their community members.

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And so and you own your own small business also. So you understand from that perspective, but more importantly,

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being able to let you know some of the small businesses that maybe don't have the time to be able to,

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you know, sit at a table and really dove into it the way that you have.

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You can tell them that, hey, I understand what you're feeling. I'm bringing to the table what you're experiencing.

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And believe me, we are trying to find solutions that will help, you know, the problems of our specific area.

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And I think that's really what makes Creat bridges.

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So interesting is that because we have the three C's and the Ozarks foothills kind of identified as their own regions,

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even among ourselves, there are differences that you have identified as a strategic needs to solve.

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Then what Ozark foothills has decided it was important to solve.

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And so because of that Create Bridges, really does focus on the needs at ground level, and I think that's important.

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That someone who maybe isnt as familiar with us. And what we're going through is dictating what solutions should be should be had.

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So Keisha you be being part of a process that is certainly valuable. And with that.

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Are you seeing that kind of impact that that just might be having?

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Specifically to the three C's, because it is so focused on a specific region.

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Yeah, well, I think one of the great things that Creat bridges brought for us to our community in this process is a neutrality as a agency,

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if you will. And then also the backing of the name and all that comes with a grant.

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So for us, I mean, in my perspective, that's the two big things that I think have been such a great advantage is.

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They are, you know, with the extension agency office and the grant funders that just helped establish a rapport that just naturally came with that.

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So it helped honestly just kind of blow some wind in the sails of things we were wanting to get done here.

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But it gave us a focus. And even before we built specific strategies that we were chasing and trying to accomplish,

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it helped us just establish just again with that report that was already built in.

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And a neutral party. I also I didn't grow up here.

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We were kind of transplanted here for my husband's job. And so I brought some outside perspectives just naturally, frankly, to any conversation.

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But what what a group. So we were leaving and doing some things with tourism that we wanted to get done.

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Or we may be talking around the table with the committee and bringing the chamber in, bringing economic development folks in.

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But when something like the Create Bridges Grant program showed up, it gave us just a focus like, OK,

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well, with them, they they have to focus on even more specific areas within this niche of tourism.

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And so it's just like, OK. It helped us prioritize what we wanted to work on, what we could work on.

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Let them win some grant money, help us accomplish some of those things. The question marks that we're sitting in front of us.

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And so so giving us focus, they're their neutral role of just saying, OK, let's let's get these things done.

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And for me, that's probably been the biggest advantage.

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And then I will say side by side with that, we are able to be free to accomplish what we need to down here in the three C's area.

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And we are not just dictated by like, oh, OK, well, everyone in this Create Bridges program and all the states.

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This is what they're doing. So this is what everyone has to do.

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So I've really appreciated that process of giving time to listen to business owners through some of the surveys and interviews and things like that.

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But then turn that around to say, OK, great. Well, here's what we heard consistently.

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So this is how we're gonna focus and have the, you know,

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the time and the support that comes with the Create Bridges process, but not be dictated to what we have to accomplish.

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You know, you brought up a good point about hearing from the businesses, you know, the early on in the process.

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And phase one of Create Bridges, of course, as you know,

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we we had that the surveys out the businesses as well as to the workforce about what is it that is going to help make this process successful.

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How do we make the businesses in the four sectors really grow and thrive?

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And and so that we email the workforce training, which we now call create lift.

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And I know that you have created content as part of that.

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And so I wanted to talk about, you know, the content, you personally really what you think the value of the workforce training will be to our,

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you know, the folks that are go through it, but also the businesses that send their employees through it and then also just.

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Could this be a model, perhaps, for other rural communities as they are exploring how do we develop our workforce?

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Because that part of the conversation seems to be commonplace.

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It doesn't matter. I know Ozark Foothills talks about that all the time. I know that definitely came out of your surveys and three.

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And I know that other communities. This is a common problem.

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So how will create lift, help perhaps the, you know,

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maybe an example or something that other communities can think about as they're developing their own programs?

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I think, you know, the biggest thing is just going to be the content. So again, with the partnership we heard needs in both areas.

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But we're gonna be able to take advantage of the resources and talent that you have in Ozark foothills and vice versa.

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You know, we're one of the things that Drew together and where the three C's stance is our connection with you was UA Cosatot.

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And so we're able to leverage some of that community college talent, the professors and all of those.

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Much like the talent that you have there with innovation hub. And so I think just listening and saying consistently, these are the things we need.

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These are the things we need. Then we said, OK, there's not really a guess anymore of what should the court, the content be?

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What should the courses be about? We heard specific needs and requests.

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And so using that and the continuing education program, leadership at these colleges and the innovation hub,

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we were then able to build that, course, descriptions and put the content together.

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One of the other great things I'm super excited about and passionate about, frankly,

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with with the three CS area, we have a very high Hispanic Latino business ownership.

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And that is it's a big thing that we have focused on down here in the last really couple of years,

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making sure that they have access to the same resources,

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making sure they know about the resources that different agencies across the state have offered.

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And so we were also with Lift able to translate these courses into Spanish so that by latino business owners and and

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non Latino speaking business owners can still have the same exact content being presented to them and access.

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So that a huge thing for me. I'm super pumped about with Lyft. And I think you talk about demonstrative for other communities.

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We've got to pay attention to the makeup of our business owners and we've got to listen to their needs.

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And for us, two years ago, that came out as a very big desire.

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We want to grow. We want to expand. We just don't know what we have access to.

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So that was a really big thing. I think for those going through it, honestly, as a lifelong learner myself,

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I think it's going to be super important for employers to send their employees, encourage their employees to go through this.

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You know in our small communities, we don't always have a ton of professional jobs.

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And so not being part of corporate programs always or big major corporations that are nationwide or state statewide.

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We don't always have access. And so one of the things we heard back in those employee surveys was they want advancement opportunity.

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Well, they may not get that within their organization, but one of the greatest things a company can do is be part of someone's professional story.

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And so I think like when I listen in here, man,

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this is such a great opportunity that employers will have as a benefit to invest in their employees, really not costing them a dime.

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It may cost them time, like, but they're gonna you know,

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there's no reason that during a downtime of a daily cycle that someone could step out to a break room

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or step step back to a conference room and sit and consume this couple of people together or one person,

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one on one. I really think that's gonna be a huge investment that employers will have.

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And then as employers, many of the topics will benefit them as a small business owner.

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And so, again, they're not having to leave their office. I mean, with the way it's going to be, it's all digital.

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We used the thing we've learned this past year and we're really taking advantage of technology.

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And so, you know where it was, hey, closed on your shop or make sure you get someone to back you up or, you know, whatever.

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Business owners don't have to do that so they can stay in the comfort of their store.

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They can posit when when a customer walks in, if they're sitting behind the counter at a boutique or they're,

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you know, obviously the front line at a fast food restaurant isn't going to be able to do that.

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But again, they could break it out.

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So I just think really leveraging the power of the talent and using that to pay attention to what we've learned from this past year.

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Just going to give people an advantage. And again, I think especially with the digital tools that we have, we can not be, frankly,

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so consumed with ourselves that we think, oh, there's nothing more for me to learn. There's so much because it always changes.

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You know, there's always something more for us to learn. And so I think to me that those are two of the advantages is giving.

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Employers, a free, quote, free benefit that they can do to invest in their and their employees and their talent.

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But as individual team members, to gain that certification and be able to walk away,

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when you go to an interview later and the next job in your be able to say that

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you've had the certification and here's what you've learned in that process. It's just a really great advantage.

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No know, I love listening to you because you are as passionate about this as I am.

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And I sometimes and I know the Brandon and Muriel are, you know, my other program coordinator cohorts are just as passionate.

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And it's not. And I will say that the RNC has always been very participative and supportive and the things that we do.

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But you say you are you're like on our level. Let's get this done.

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And so, yes, I'm super excited about that. And I just want to remind folks.

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So they're creat bridges, workforce training. We call create lift the creative part.

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But Lyft is the leading innovation through workforce training, which again,

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as you mentioned, I so excited that it's going to be both in English and in Spanish.

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Our Ozark foothills programs that are being developed, we're getting it translated through the three CS to continue that kind of inclusion.

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And so I'm excited that we will have some Spanish content also now.

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And I think I told you earlier, Keisha that I, you know, stopped you a little bit to learn a little bit more about you.

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And so one of the things I discovered is that you are you know, or you have an organization called Arkansas Influencers.

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And from what I can tell, it's a lot about storytelling. And, you know, just sharing stories.

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And so I am actually very honored that you have spoken about our podcast and had some things to say about it,

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because as a person with great experience with storytelling,

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I just wanted to know your thoughts about why people should take the time to download the create bridges podcast and then 20 to 35 minutes with myself,

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Muriell or Brandon. Yeah. I have I have really enjoyed listening to the previous episodes leading up to today.

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And one of the things I think that whether it's a small business owner or just someone who has a hobby, I love stories.

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That is definitely something that drives me.

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But I think when I listen to the story of how a barbecue restaurant in Ashdown used model of business that they already had going,

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which was heavily built on social media and drive up traffic and never lost anything

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during what happened a year ago in the first first few weeks of the covid and pandemic.

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And their business actually grew because our business model was set there.

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And so if I am a boutique owner on the square looking at the courthouse, I think man will do.

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I shifted do. How do I listen to what he did to interact with his followers or to create a Instagram campaign or to

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change the setting outside the front window where he's not doing as much interaction face to face,

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but he's got a space for someone to come and safely come experience and continue to grow its business.

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Or I look at what Mark Haring did with the with the craft mall.

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And just like having having just the entrepreneurial spirit to just be like, hey, I'll buy this tool.

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I know out of nowhere, really, frankly. Like, not even super soliciting something.

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A huge opportunity comes about for him. So I'm listening to that as a as an entrepreneurial spirit.

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And I'm going, OK. What I'm hearing is he was just ready, like he was ready, like he did.

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He just kind of lived in a cadence of just being ready for things to come.

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Or the rodeo guys or I mean, there's just like so many things that can just I think when you listen to someone tell their own story.

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One of the things I like to do is to say, OK, where would that fit on me or where would I fit into that?

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And if I'm going to frankly spend the time consuming something for me, it's like, again, always learning what can I listen?

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What can I hear in this I think as people listen to this podcast.

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I mean, it is written small business, but big role impact.

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And frankly, outside of about three areas, we're not a huge metro place.

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I mean, I grew up in Dallas, but I came to South Arkansas to college and I have never gone back.

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And so I've been I've been here 20 years.

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And so I think I've begun to see that really the story of this state is small businesses that do great things every single day.

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And whether that is a chili pepper sauce or a cutting board or necklaces that are hand stamped

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and clothing that's made or taking advantage of rice and soy and like the things that are.

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The story of this state, man, I think we can listen and go where where do I fit into that?

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And one of the things I like to in my training with media is I talk to people about like who is their audience?

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I call it a persona. Some marketing people call it the hero. But but I think when we begin to understand why people buy things from people.

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And so it's not just another walk through the aisle. Grab this item.

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Grab this item. I go show up on my town square and buy a bracelet from a person because I know her.

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I know her story. I know she's a mom and she's fighting for her family and she's hand stamping jewelry and her personal touches on that.

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Well, that's a gift. I want to give to all kinds of people or a lady in our town who grinds her own cornbread,

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a corn meal to make cornbread and has been for like 30 years.

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But she's this beautiful entrepreneurial soul.

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And when I make that cornbread, I think about Miss Roxy just as much as I went and bought Jiffy off a shelf at a regular grocery store.

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So I think for me, that's what's really special about this,

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is as we listen in any town across our states has people like you guys have been talking to and and they can see themselves in those stories.

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You know, as you were speaking, Keisha, I kept thinking was we're celebrating businesses and we're celebrating people.

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And really that's that's all. You know, we we hope that the podcast to do is to be inspirational.

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But also, if someone was looking at coming to rural Arkansas and trying to decide, you know,

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what are the businesses like or what's the environment going to be like, or should I open a business?

00:20:17,300 --> 00:20:22,910
This gives perspective because it is different than coming from Dallas or, you know,

00:20:22,910 --> 00:20:28,700
me from Phenix and and just kind of having that awareness of what is going to be like.

00:20:28,700 --> 00:20:35,120
But as you can as you have done, we celebrate our businesses because they're our neighbors.

00:20:35,120 --> 00:20:41,840
They're the people that we see. And they're not just a they're not just the box.

00:20:41,840 --> 00:20:46,790
They are actually the owners that are the proprietors.

00:20:46,790 --> 00:20:52,520
They mean something to us. And so I really appreciate you sharing that podcast.

00:20:52,520 --> 00:21:00,800
And I know that Brandon and Murriel have worked just as hard with me to make sure that there are.

00:21:00,800 --> 00:21:05,120
Yes. Understood that we are celebrating them. And so we're celebrating you, too.

00:21:05,120 --> 00:21:14,660
We appreciate you so much, because without the you know, we it's hard for any of us, you know, in rural communities to be able to move forward.

00:21:14,660 --> 00:21:21,770
And I mean, we we can't be left behind or else money's expenditures.

00:21:21,770 --> 00:21:25,640
Those go to other places because they're bigger and they make more noise.

00:21:25,640 --> 00:21:30,440
And it's our job to make sure that people don't forget that we are an important

00:21:30,440 --> 00:21:35,570
part to the economy and we are an important part to the Arkansas economy.

00:21:35,570 --> 00:21:44,330
And so we just we just need to lift each other out then and make sure that we make everyone as successful as they can or give them the tools,

00:21:44,330 --> 00:21:49,160
I should say. I mean. Yeah. And be successful. So with all that.

00:21:49,160 --> 00:21:57,440
Is there anything else about create bridges or create lift or about, you know, just this process that I've not touched on?

00:21:57,440 --> 00:22:03,520
I think one of my favorite quotes and really it drives much of the things I do in my life is think is attributed to Mother Teresa,

00:22:03,520 --> 00:22:11,690
but it's be the change you wish to see in the world. And so, you know, we started this by saying, how did you get to this place?

00:22:11,690 --> 00:22:20,660
I said, yes, but as I learned more then I became passionate about specific things that I, I could personally bring to the table and do something.

00:22:20,660 --> 00:22:27,050
So I think, again, as we look at rural Arkansas and what do they what do our towns need from us?

00:22:27,050 --> 00:22:29,000
What are these businesses need us?

00:22:29,000 --> 00:22:35,300
Well, definitely, we know, especially from this past year, they need us to show up for them, just like they're showing up for us every day.

00:22:35,300 --> 00:22:38,720
You know, we just last week came out of this crazy snow time.

00:22:38,720 --> 00:22:46,130
But yet I'm watching on our Facebook and our town communication groups about our local restaurants.

00:22:46,130 --> 00:22:52,520
And here's their menus. And despite the fact that their delivery trucks didn't show up, OK, we have an adjusted menu.

00:22:52,520 --> 00:22:57,590
But here's our special today. And we're going to stay open until this time or we run out of food.

00:22:57,590 --> 00:23:01,790
And so I think, like, we've got to remember that our businesses are showing up for us.

00:23:01,790 --> 00:23:04,730
That's is what makes our accounts function.

00:23:04,730 --> 00:23:12,290
That is who our kids go to when they want t ball team jersey use and we want community events sponsored.

00:23:12,290 --> 00:23:16,400
And so we've got to remember to show up for them.

00:23:16,400 --> 00:23:22,340
But I also think I'm just not one to complain without a solution.

00:23:22,340 --> 00:23:26,000
And so we talked earlier about this thing a lot about solutions. I'm a solution seeker.

00:23:26,000 --> 00:23:35,170
That's one of the things that drives life for me. And so if I'm going to show up with a with a complaint or with a obstacle.

00:23:35,170 --> 00:23:40,270
I just challenge people to show up with a solution or come sit at the table and be part of the conversation.

00:23:40,270 --> 00:23:42,910
I think that is what we have seen.

00:23:42,910 --> 00:23:49,990
Create Bridges has given us the opportunity to do it's drawn some new people to the table for some of these conversations.

00:23:49,990 --> 00:23:54,610
And frankly, the process of these surveys and such has brought awareness to our community.

00:23:54,610 --> 00:23:59,290
For things I just don't think they knew were here. And so we don't all live on Google.

00:23:59,290 --> 00:24:04,120
We don't all you know, not everyone's, like, passionate about these crazy things that you and I are passionate about.

00:24:04,120 --> 00:24:12,220
But get in a car and just take a Saturday and go do a windshield tour of your community like Google and pretend you're a visitor to your town,

00:24:12,220 --> 00:24:18,430
get on TripAdvisor, get on Facebook like all the places that people would go and be a visitor in your

00:24:18,430 --> 00:24:23,590
town for a day and just kind of open your eyes so you know what is new here.

00:24:23,590 --> 00:24:30,880
But absolutely be part of the solution. I'm just showing up at the table again and again with create bridges.

00:24:30,880 --> 00:24:38,110
You know, that's what's been great about this steering committee, is different people bringing different tools that are in their personal toolbox.

00:24:38,110 --> 00:24:45,670
And so while I can quickly jump on one thing, someone else may have the capacity in time to do a long endurance project.

00:24:45,670 --> 00:24:51,100
And so I think just being part of that, even if you're not a board member at the Chamber Economic Development,

00:24:51,100 --> 00:24:55,420
they're always looking for volunteers and community advocates.

00:24:55,420 --> 00:25:01,750
So if you're passionate about something like go to the agency in your community, that can help you carry that out.

00:25:01,750 --> 00:25:06,520
And for now, at least until November, 2021, you know,

00:25:06,520 --> 00:25:14,880
folks can can come see Brandon Murriel or myself or RNC members, you know, and and really get the information.

00:25:14,880 --> 00:25:18,670
You know, I kind of right now, especially if you don't know,

00:25:18,670 --> 00:25:24,490
it's probably because you didn't ask or you go, you know, I mean, we are really reaching out.

00:25:24,490 --> 00:25:32,320
Also, if you're someone who, you know, has a story to tell and we want to interview you on the podcast, we want to hear from you.

00:25:32,320 --> 00:25:36,820
This is all about you. I mean, Create Bridges we're not asking anything of you.

00:25:36,820 --> 00:25:41,710
We are actually here to help you. And we want to really showcasing.

00:25:41,710 --> 00:25:46,570
So I will saying this is one of those that actually the call to action.

00:25:46,570 --> 00:25:50,650
Please come reach out to us. We are available. That's what we're here for.

00:25:50,650 --> 00:25:56,020
And you have us till November. So keisha been you have been wonderful to talk with.

00:25:56,020 --> 00:26:05,020
I've learned a lot about you. And you know, kind of your role in the early process, even before the RNC.

00:26:05,020 --> 00:26:09,670
And then and being a part of that with Create bridges. And again,

00:26:09,670 --> 00:26:14,080
we kind of we can do without you and the regional steering committee and all the folks that

00:26:14,080 --> 00:26:20,300
have been so committed to the program of Create bridges and asking for the boots on the ground.

00:26:20,300 --> 00:26:24,370
Murielle in your area. And a nine Ozark foothills.

00:26:24,370 --> 00:26:30,010
I will tell you, the three of us have just been so honored at the opportunity to serve our businesses,

00:26:30,010 --> 00:26:34,270
our entrepreneurs and you and entrusting us with that task.

00:26:34,270 --> 00:26:37,900
So it has been a pleasure. Thank you so much. Thank you.

00:26:37,900 --> 00:26:44,890
Thank you. And this is another episode of Create Bridges A Small Business Big rural impact see you next time.

00:26:44,890 --> 00:26:51,090
For more information about this or any Create Bridges podcast or more about Create bridges, Arkansas visit

00:26:51,090 --> 00:26:55,570, create bridges.

00:26:55,570 --> 00:27:01,570
Arkansas podcast is made possible by Wal-Mart grant to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture,
00:27:01,570 --> 00:27:05,440
Cooperative Extension, Community, Professional and Economic Development.

00:27:05,440 --> 00:27:18,974
And with the cooperation of Spring River Innovation Hub and White River Now productions.