A grass-roots project to help Van Buren continue to grow is in the process of taking shape.
Julie Murray, president and CEO of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber is serving as the facilitator for the project “For Van Buren.”
For Van Buren is currently forming six committees, one for each goal it is trying to achieve. These goals include beautification (improving the community’s attractiveness), continuing the downtown revitalization, fostering a retail service sector and tourism, improving the quality of Van Buren’s workforce, continuing to improve its community leadership capacity through Leadership Crawford County and both making Van Buren more competitive for attracting new businesses on the industrial side and implementing a business retention and expansion program.
“Right now, we have really co-chairs assigned that came out of the steering committee. They’re going to be recruiting their committee members, and some of these won’t need very many people, like the Van Buren Original,” Murray said. “It’s already formed, and they won’t be recruiting any more people, but they’ll be continuing the work that they are doing.”
Some work, Murray said, is already in progress. This includes the Leadership Crawford County Board of Directors and the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors agreeing to move Leadership Crawford County back under the umbrella of the Chamber of Commerce.
Murray said For Van Buren evolved from a June 7 joint meeting of the Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Development and Strategic Planning committees, which were formed late last year.
“… And out of the discussion of the development that’s happened in the community so far and the momentum that we have, the question came up of how do we keep it going, what’s the next step,” Murray said. “And someone mentioned that in 2015, an assessment and a strategic plan was designed for the community, so we decided to take a fresh look at that plan, see what’s been done, what hasn’t been done, what we still want to do, and so that’s what we did.”
A subset of this group met June 19 to review the strategic plan and revise it. The slogan “For Van Buren” came out of that meeting.
“… We combined a few goals, and clarified a few things, and updated a few things because a lot of the initial goals for downtown have been accomplished,” Murray said. “For instance, creating a downtown organization. That was accomplished with the creation of the Van Buren Original group. And so going forward, one of their key goals is going to be focus on recruiting retail and hospitality, restaurants, to downtown, so that’s the next step for them, and they’ve already done a lot of that as well.”
Murray said the larger group, now the For Van Buren steering committee, met July 11 to approve the changes to the strategic plan and divide up the goals to form the six committees. It was also decided the steering committee would meet again in September, and then every other month afterward.
There are currently about 20 people on For Van Buren’s steering committee, Murray said. Among them are Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst and Crawford County District 5 Justice of the Peace Raymond Harvey.
Hurst said he is going to be actively involved in For Van Buren. To him, the project is important because it is a way for the new leadership that is in place for both the city and the Chamber of Commerce to take momentum from the past and work together, as well as recommit themselves to the goals that were listed in the 2015 strategic plan.
“… And we’re going to be changing those, and making minor tweaks here and there, and making sure that the priorities from 2015 are still the same today, four years later,” Hurst said. “I think it’s really important to rally the community, to rally the community leaders who will be working together to be a cheerleader for the city, to be a champion for the city. That’s just really important for us, to all work together.”
Hurst said the strategic plan was a joint effort between the city and the chamber.
For Van Buren’s next meeting is Sept. 12, Murray said. Those who are interested in helping with any of the committees that comprise For Van Buren can call the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce at (479) 474-2761.