Think Big Little Rock, a group of millennials commissioned by business leaders, is working on getting the word out about its ideas to improve the Little Rock region.
Expanding the public school district's pre-kindergarten program, developing a comprehensive master plan on regional mobility, creating a diversion program for youthful offenders, and developing a framework to teach businesses how to recruit and retain a diverse workforce are just some of the goals.
The group's co-chairmen have been offering presentations to business and civic leaders to gain support and foster partnerships for the implementation phase of their project. They spoke to the Little Rock Board of Directors on Tuesday.
Think Big is a group of about 100 people ages 25 to 40 selected by Fifty for the Future -- a collection of company executives and community leaders focused on economic opportunities -- to spend a year coming up with an action plan for improving the region.
Transportation was one key focus. The group says that the Arkansas Department of Transportation's 30 Crossing project to expand the Interstate 30 bridge over the Arkansas River is the perfect example of the need for a long-term master plan that takes into account alternative modes of travel.
Think Big's 38-page report has recommendations in the seven areas studied: transportation and environment, public education, public safety, public health, diversity and inclusion, economic development, and arts and culture.
Timelines for the various proposals in the plan -- a full copy of which is available online at thinkbiglittlerock.com -- stretch from this year to 2020.
Funding is identified for some of the short-term action items, such as starting a Connect 501 website to advertise the region's events.
Think Big has partnered with the Little Rock School District, and high school students are currently designing a prototype of the website.
Other areas will require working with partners and funding is uncertain. Some areas of the report have suggestions of seeking out grant dollars.
Little Rock School District Superintendent Michael Poore has said he is on board with the group's ideas for an expanded preschool program.
"Creating more preschool slots is a big, big deal. It was in my first policy speech. ... It's one of the most successful things that we do, by data. If you go look at kids who are part of our preschool program, no matter where they fall in terms of families and economics, they are much better prepared and test better in first grade," Poore said when Think Big revealed its report for the first time in December.
Think Big co-chairman Antwan Phillips said the plan to expand preschools is already in the works and he and the group's partners are hopeful that it can begin this fall.
There are current slots in the city school district, but they are limited and many are tied to a certain income level, meaning families that make above that amount don't have an opportunity to place their children in the program.
Another recommendation out of the report is to expand the uses of War Memorial Stadium. Separately, the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department had already commissioned a study into future uses of the stadium.
Think Big envisions adding a track, having sponsored events, and converting the golf course into a multipurpose central park with ball fields, an amphitheater, skate park, climbing walls, dog park and food-truck area.
Fifty for the Future, the group of business leaders that created Think Big, set aside $50,000 in seed money. Some of that was used last year as the group created its action plan. The rest is available for the implementation phase.
Dean Kumpuris, city director at-large, said it is refreshing to see young people take so much initiative in their town. Kumpuris is a part of the Fifty for the Future group that started Think Big Little Rock.
"They have come up with what they think is important to move the city forward. They have a plan on how to do it. They have started implementation because they think it's important. ... I'm sure they'll hit brick walls along the way and I think our course is to help them make the city better for how young people want to live. This is our future," Kumpuris said.
Metro on 02/14/2018