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Winrock International

Lake Village, Arkansas: Small Town, Big Dreams

SYNOPSIS: Provided business and community development assistance such as helping to attract business to downtown, analyzing workforce, labor and population trends, and hosting trainings for city leaders.
YEARS ACTIVE: 2006-2018
FUNDER: Various

“We’re a small community, but we have big ideas,” says JoAnne Bush, a native of Lake Village, Arkansas (population 2,500), and its mayor of 28 years.

One of the most up-and-coming small towns in the Mississippi Delta region, Lake Village has a new city hall, community garden and a retail sector with everything from the Paul Michael Company’s flagship furniture store to the nationally known Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales, a beloved roadside eatery.

Bush is sitting in the newly renovated Tushek Building on Main Street, which has rehabilitated Lake Village’s downtown. Once a dilapidated eyesore in the center of town, this historic structure has been completely refashioned as Lake Village’s one-stop-shop city hall. It has won a preservation award and spurred other downtown development, including a pocket park, community garden and fitness center.

Winrock’s U.S. Programs group has been working with the Lake Village community for more than 10 years. It helped identify funding sources for the Tushek building and supported the town as it administered the $2 million in grants and loans it received to fund the renovation.

Such progress paid off when Lake Village was named one of 12 finalists for the prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. It beat out almost 200 other communities in this annual competition that awards $25,000 to the town that best transforms its neighborhoods, schools and businesses so that quality of life and quality of place flourish for everyone.

“There is no dollar value that can be placed on what Winrock offers to cities, especially smaller cities,” Bush says. “There is not an organization, there is not a foundation, there is not a state or federal agency that will walk you through= and teach you the fundamentals like Winrock.”

Winrock worked with Chicot County Memorial Hospital to change its billing practices and better train its staff. It created an energy audit and retail gap analysis to identify retail targets. It also mapped manufacturing facilities, analyzed the workforce and held countless training sessions for city leaders.

“When Winrock goes into a community, we invest and we stay,” says Linsley Kinkade, director of U.S. Programs. “We don’t just come in and say, ‘Widen your road.’”

The changes in Lake Village have created a buzz you can almost feel when you walk along the lakefront or through the downtown. To help rural towns flourish requires social, intellectual and financial capital. Winrock boosts all of these. “Winrock brings concepts and ideas to you that you have never thought of,” Bush says. “They introduce you to wonderful resources, and they are involved. They want more for your city than you want yourself.”