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Arkansas is courting chief executives across the nation to entice them to expand in Arkansas with an unusual pitch -- the state never forced a business shutdown during the pandemic.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission's effort, called "Make Your Move," also points out the state's business-friendly environment by highlighting the cost of doing business and living in Arkansas compared with the higher costs of living or stricter regulations businesses endure where they operate today.

Advertising targets business leaders in some of the nation's largest cities: Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Portland, Ore., and Oakland, Calif.

Target markets, in addition to going through various phases of business closings, also have experienced social protests. That combination makes businesses in the areas ripe for a marketing pitch, according to Commerce Secretary Mike Preston, who also leads the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.

Businesses, he said, "are just fed up and have a sense of frustration with not being treated well. The campaign is bold and puts us out there in a way we haven't done before."

Why now?

"We didn't want to wait any longer to capitalize on the situation," Preston said, noting that since March most efforts have been focused on helping existing businesses survive the pandemic.

"We want to be aggressive again and proactive" in building leads, Preston said.

The state's message is pretty straightforward: Executives frustrated with heavy-handed mandates that state and local governments are placing on their business should consider making the move to Arkansas. And, the campaign boasts, the state won't shut down your operations in the pandemic.

Advertising to C-suite executives directs them to a landing page and special website set up to support the campaign.

"Arkansas has taken a data-driven, business-friendly approach to navigating the challenges of Covid-19," the landing page emphasizes. "We didn't need to reopen because we never closed. We welcome and support businesses of all sizes looking to expand."

Outreach relies on digital platforms such as LinkedIn to message the right executive in the right location.

The ads emphasize that while some states are designating essential and nonessential businesses, Arkansas has only one category: essential. "Arkansas was one of only a few states that never issued a shelter in place mandate," the campaign advertises.

The campaign has been running for more than a week and is scheduled to end in December. To date, there have been more than 192,000 impressions and 1,100 clicks.

Contributors to the effort include leading state utilities: Entergy Arkansas, the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas and OG&E Energy Corp. The utility companies are providing about two-thirds of the money to support the $80,000 campaign. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission's investment is $25,000.

The funds pay for the advertising, which includes video, and the social media buy to amplify the message to target audiences.

EQUITY INVESTMENT

Bank of America is buying about 5% of Southern Bancorp Inc., an equity investment that will allow the Little Rock bank to expand its efforts to help underserved communities.

The investment is part of a $1 billion initiative from Bank of America, which is making a four-year nationwide commitment to "advance racial equality and economic opportunity," the bank said in announcing the investments.

Southern Bancorp is one of seven equity investments Bank of America is making in minority depository institutions and community development financial institution banks.

"The bottom line is that equity investments like this from Bank of America will allow us to grow and expand into new, financially underserved markets," said Darrin Williams, chief executive officer of Southern Bancorp.

"Over the last several years we have grown our assets by more than $400 million and expanded into Glenwood, Mt. Ida and Hattiesburg, Miss. With this additional equity, we're looking for more markets that would be a good fit for our unique blend of products and services."

Bank of America's investments will help the local financial institutions by supporting efforts in lending, housing, neighborhood revitalization and other banking services.

Southern Bancorp has about $1.6 billion in assets and more than 65,000 customers in Arkansas and across the mid-South.

SUPPORT FOR WOMEN

BankOn Arkansas held a virtual summit Thursday in Little Rock to discuss the economic impact of covid-19 on families, small businesses and communities.

The Family Resilience Summit offered insights from national and local experts that included tips on how to rebuild family finances in the pandemic and how low-income families can gain greater access to capital.

As part of the event, the Arkansas Asset Funders Network released a report noting the challenges and opportunities related to women entrepreneurs' access to capital.

"Arkansas women entrepreneurs," the report says, "face systemic barriers to accessing capital that prevent them from developing and growing wealth-building businesses."

The seven-page report goes on to outline how financial and philanthropic organizations can help women overcome those barriers.

The report is available on the assetfunders.org website.

BankOn efforts received a boost from the American Bankers Association as the Little Rock conference was being held. The national organization issued a statement that "called on every bank in the country to consider offering BankOn-certified accounts to expand access to banking services and reduce the number of unbanked and underbanked Americans."

BankOn works with financial institutions to offer checking accounts that include a debit/ATM card, no minimum balance and no overdraft fees. The free accounts are targeted to help underbanked residents in low-income communities.

STORYTELLING SEMINAR

Telling a good story is a powerful way to communicate a company's vision or to help sell an idea.

The Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas is holding a Zoom-based seminar Thursday to help business leaders learn how to incorporate storytelling as a strategic benefit.

The session will be held from 1-3 p.m. and costs $300.

Participants will learn how to develop storytelling techniques that can be used as a leadership tool to promote and grow their businesses. The session will teach managers to craft compelling stories that support the mission and vision of their companies.

Tom Veredy, a retired business professor at John Brown University, will lead the session. He is an executive coach with more than 34 years of experience in the private sector.

Go to execed.uark.edu to register.

Column ideas or recommendations? Thoughts or musings that need pursuing? Contact me at amoreau@adgnewsroom.com or at (501) 378-3567.

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