An area mayor recently received his graduation certificate and an exemplary award from the Community Development Institute at the University of Central Arkansas.

Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter was among the 32 individuals who were awarded graduation certificates from the Community Development Institute Aug. 2. Mayor Baxter completed all three years of the institute’s program of study.

CDI trains community leaders and economic development professionals on how to strengthen their local economies and build communities.

"It melds both economic development and community development," Baxter said of the program. "We already try to develop our community by bringing in more businesses and more industry, but in order to do that you have to attract people to the area."

Community leaders learn to identify community assets, set goals, encourage collaboration and partnerships with stakeholders, and bring communities, organizations and businesses together to respond to a broad range of economic and quality of life issues.

"It’s how you work together as a region to develop your community," Baxter said.

Baxter learned how to market the features of his area, such as the Ozark Natural Forest and local rivers, and historical attractions such as the renovation of the Old Kirksey Hospital, he said.

He also learned how to take cultural features, such as Vine Prairie and Bluff Hole parks, and make them more attractive, he said.

The complete institute experience is a three year program, with one week of training per year. Participants move through the program curriculum with classmates, and are exposed to a comprehensive, applied approach to the field of community and economic development.

Baxter attended the class with 32 professional, civic and government leaders from several states, he said.

"We’re trying to improve our communities by learning and applying what we learn in our individual areas," Baxter said.

At the graduation ceremony, Baxter was selected by his peers to receive the "Ernest L. Whitelaw Award" for exemplifying the following points: Dedication to professional community development practice and proven involvement in the CDI educational experience; demonstrated by enthusiastic individual and group class participation, willingness to assume leadership roles and regular class attendance and a spirit of caring and inclusion shown by a willingness to assist, enable and involve fellow students in the CDI experience and strong personal integrity.

Baxter also received a scholarship from Winrock International to attend the three-year program, so that no funds from the city except those for transportation were used, he said.

"I was able to go and learn about how to work harder for the City of Mulberry without it costing the city," Baxter said.