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story.lead_photo.caption Mat Faulkner of Searcy stands in Think Idea Studio, the full-service marketing company he founded. Faulkner has been at the forefront of several community initiatives, including the Think Art Project and Searcy’s win in the national Small Business Revolution-Main Street contest. He was named the Rotary Club’s first Citizen of the Year. - Photo by Staci Vandagriff

*Editor’s Note

There was incorrect information in the Searcy Rotary Club names ‘revolution’ leader first Citizen of the Year story that ran on Page 1 of the May 5 Three Rivers Edition. There were 12,000 initial applicants in the Small Business Revolution-Main Street contest that Searcy won.

Mat Faulkner helped start a revolution in the small town of Searcy, and he’s been named Citizen of the Year for his efforts.

The Searcy Rotary Club gave the award for the first time in its 60-year history.

Searcy Rotary Club President Jim Carr said the group created the honor specifically for Faulkner “because of Mat’s terrific contributions to our community this past year in a totally unselfish way.”

“He has been an incredible leader of the revolution,” Carr said.

The revolution Carr’s talking about is the Small Business Revolution-Main Street contest to be featured in the online and Hulu series.

Faulkner entered Searcy in the contest, and the city won after making cut after cut from an initial 12,00 applicants.

Six businesses were chosen in Searcy by the show to share $500,000 for makeovers by co-hosts Ty Pennington and Amanda Brinkman. The show is sponsored by Deluxe, a national marketing company.

“I think that will do wonders for Searcy. I think the downtown is already beginning to sparkle,” said Carr, senior vice president of Harding University.

Faulkner owns Think Idea Studio in downtown Searcy, a full-service marketing company. He is the point person between Deluxe and the film crew. The show’s staff has been to Searcy two or three times to film for the eight-part series, which will air in the fall.

Faulkner entered the city in the Small Business Revolution-Main Street contest “on a whim,” as he described it.

“I didn’t tell anybody at first,” Faulkner said.

“The show came across my Facebook feed, and I watched a few episodes and saw an opening,” so he applied, he said.

“I tried to be real honest about where Searcy was … and the hurdles we had,” he said.

Faulkner said the Small Business Revolution has been an exciting, worthwhile ride.

“We’re six months into it. It’s been a ton of work; it’s been very fast-paced,” he said.

The contest has also been “a unifying experience,” he said because “it’s taken everybody to pull in one direction — and not just locally. It took connections all across the nation to win.”

It was a dynamic process, and the city had to be prepared to “hit it” every step of the way — a nationwide vote, etc.

Faulkner said he’s been able to see “behind the curtains” to how the producers think and act.

“Their desire is that this is an educational and inspiring TV show, not just for business here in Searcy but across the nation,” he said. “They put a lot of thought and intentionality into the six businesses chosen.”

Those range from a woodworker who runs a business out of his garage to the fast-growing noomaLIFE, which offers yoga classes and more and has locations in Searcy, Little Rock and Rogers.

Faulkner and Amy Burton, executive director of Main Street Searcy, just returned from a trip to Bristol Borough, Pennsylvania, the city that won Season 2 of Small Business Revolution-Main Street.

“That was really cool,” Faulkner said. “They have had just a massive transformation with their whole town [since winning the show]. Downtown went from 40 percent vacancy to when we were there, only two buildings were available.

“We learned some things from them; they’ll learn from us.”

For example, Faulkner founded and is director of the Think Art Project, an initiative to install and implement public art spaces, “not just murals, but sculpture, lighting and water features to connect artists with historians to tell the history of Searcy through artwork and have an educational component,” he said. “We’ve seen it do wonders with our downtown.”

One of the projects is Art Alley, a formerly unused alley that has murals painted by artists who gather there, and events are held in the alley. It’s become a destination, he said.

“In four months’ time, [the alley] went from being absolutely nothing to having 90 artists signed up to paint downtown,” he said.

Burton said Faulkner is a worthy first recipient of the Rotary Club’s Citizen of the Year award.

“He has been a small-business owner in town for several years and understands what it means to manage a business while still contributing and volunteering in the community,” Burton said. “He has worked over the past several years on several community-related projects. It’s very nice for the Rotarians to acknowledge his contributions to the city.”

Faulkner is also passionate about the Jacob’s Place Homeless Mission. He is a past president and a current board member for the shelter, which was founded in 2008, he said.

“We serve as a temporary place to live for families experiencing homelessness — they have to have children or be a pregnant woman. Typically, it’s single moms,” Faulkner said. “It’s a place for them to get back on their feet. We try to connect them with resources for jobs and education, teach them to save money” and show them someone cares.

Faulkner is also chairman of the Small Business Committee for the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce; vice president of the Searcy Regional Economic Development Corp.; co-director of Searcy Beats and Eats, which are monthly festivals; and a member of the Beautification Committee for the city and the Holiday of Lights Committee.

Faulkner said the Rotary Club honor was a surprise.

The club invited him to a meeting to give an update on Small Business Revolution-Main Street, which he did. Following that, he was recognized as Citizen of the Year.

“I was shocked and humbled, and it was just really sweet of them to do that. I’m tickled to death,” Faulkner said. “I can’t take credit for all that’s going on.”

Carr said he knew Faulkner wouldn’t take credit.

“He’d say he’s had lots of help, but he’s been the quarterback,” Carr said.

Faulkner said he isn’t a member of any civic club because he doesn’t have time — nor does he hold public office.

“I don’t hold any official city position, but this is home,” Faulkner said. “My goal is to make home the best it can be, not just for my family, but other families as well. We have to step up; we can’t wait for others to do it. What do we want to do to improve our quality of life and make it a place where our kids want to stay?”

He and his wife, Shelley, have three sons: Easton, 13; Lawson, 11; and Jace, 9.

“My dream for Searcy is for people, when they recognize a need or see something they wish we had, they take the initiative and make it happen,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner said the slogan changed from the beginning of the Small Business Revolution-Main Street process from “My Searcy Is Ready for a Revolution” to “Be the Revolution.”

“The message needs to be the same, win or lose,” he said. “It’s up to individuals to take ownership over the community they live in. We want each person to be the revolution themselves.”

All they have to do is follow the new Citizen of the Year’s example.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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