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story.lead_photo.caption Hazelle Whited was named the executive director for the Spring River Innovation Hub and the Sharp County affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation in May. She will also serve as regional coordinator for the Create Bridges grant from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Community and Economic Development Office. (Contributing Photographer / Roxanne Daily )

Even before Hazelle Whited moved to Arkansas, she had been part of a collaboration of about 10 towns that worked toward making the economy in the region grow.

“Through that experience, I really felt and understood how businesses were a huge contributor to making a region more successful, and when I moved to Arkansas, I could see the potential of Sharp, Izard and Fulton counties, and I wanted to continue that drive,” Whited said.

Whited moved to Arkansas in 2009 from Arizona.

“We had family that live in Sharp County, and my boys were little at the time, and I wanted them to experience rural living,” she said. “And it is easier, when they are younger, to move from the city to the country and then, when they are older, to move from the country to the city.

“There was something about the country rural life that was appealing to my now ex-husband and me. We were coming from the metro Phoenix area, and it is so overwhelming with the number of people. This is a more family-oriented and calmer way of life.”

Whited was named the executive director for the Spring River Innovation Hub and the Sharp County affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation in May. She will also serve as regional coordinator for the Create Bridges grant from the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Community and Economic Development Office.

Whited said the Spring River Innovation Hub helps small businesses by providing one-on-one business-consulting resources and “properly understanding what it is going to take to launch their company.”

“We really help incubate their idea and make it happen,” she said. “We are the only rural incubators in Arkansas and one of the smallest in the country.”

She said for the first couple of weeks that she has been with both organizations, she wanted to ensure that she gave proper time and effort to each function and understood what each of her boards expects. She said that oftentimes, the work she does overlaps between the same businesses or civic leaders, and she said it makes sense to have the three positions all under one umbrella.

“Hazelle is a very community-minded professional, and we are excited to have her join our work with the Sharp County Community Foundation,” said Molly Day, board chairman of the foundation. “She brings a great deal of experience coordinating multiple organizations and has a strong marketing background, and I am confident these skills will allow us to collectively grow our endowments and grant-making capabilities.”

Day said that as a board member for the Innovation Hub and the Sharp Community Foundation, both organizations knew that by working together, they could cover more ground, uncover more opportunities and realize more success.

“We knew that finding the right person for this role was imperative,” Day said. “Hazelle’s professional experience, coupled with her community involvement and desire to grow Sharp County, makes her uniquely qualified to oversee both organizations.”

By working for the Stone County affiliate of the Arkansas Community Foundation, Whited will help facilitate the grant-funding process and the endowments that the foundation manages.

Whited is currently pursuing a degree in business administration online with Grand Canyon University, a Christian college based in Phoenix. She expects to finish her degree by the year 2022, right before she turns 50.

“I wanted to show people that it is never too late to go back for your degree,” she said.

Prior to her new positions, Whited served as marketing director for a farm store in Ash Flat, and in the transition of leaving the position, one of the board members asked her to apply for the executive-director position.

“I have known the board members for both organizations for a while, and I understood what they did and how they give back to the community,” she said. “I am just drawn to that — helping businesses grow and helping fund well-needed projects in the area.

“If businesses are successful, other projects can benefit from their help.”

Julianne Dunn has known Whited since January 2019, when Whited joined the Create Bridges Regional Steering Committee. Dunn said Create Bridges is a pilot economic-development project designed to raise awareness and support retail, tourism, entertainment and accommodation businesses in Sharp, Izard and Fulton counties. In November 2019, Whited was selected by a Sharp County judge to be a part of the Sharp County Economic Development Research Team.

“From the minute she joined on, she has been a strong advocate for businesses and has worked hard to ensure that business owners and community members’ voices are heard throughout the process,” Dunn said. “She is focused, dedicated and applies her wealth of experience freely.

“The Spring River Innovation Hub and the Sharp County Community Foundation are lucky to have her taking the lead, and she has already started talking to businesses and learning everything she possibly can about how best to provide opportunities and to amplify success stories.”

Dunn said Whited stood out from other applicants because of her demonstrated commitment to the community, her ability to apply her tremendous work experience to support and empower others, and her vision for the future for Sharp County and the whole region.

“She has proven, time and time again, to be able to follow through on her vision and to provide insight and resources for anyone working with her,” Dunn said. “Based on my experience working with her over the past few years, I expect truly great things from her in her new roles and that she will make a measurable and notable impact on her constituents.”

Whited said her goal is to help businesses start up and thrive in the community, which in turn, will help attract industry to the area. She said that usually, for rural communities, businesses are able to start up, but many aren’t sustaining and close their doors within a year.

“That’s the goal — keeping their businesses up and making a living and employing people within their own business, which would allow us to contribute more to the community,” she said.

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