Media Release: Oct. 1, 2014
Communities Unlimited will build sustainable economies, fight persistent poverty
Two Arkansas-based organizations merge to offer expanded vision for regional growth
Pine Bluff, Ark.,
(Oct. 1, 2014)
– An innovative, new nonprofit based in Arkansas will work with under-resourced communities in seven states to build wealth and improve quality of life, its founders said today. The organization, named Communities Unlimited, Inc., was announced in Pine Bluff to both local and national community development leaders.
Communities Unlimited is the product of a merger between alt.Consulting of Pine Bluff and Community Resource Group (CRG) of Fayetteville, two nonprofits that work annually in hundreds of persistently poor communities across the South. The new entity will launch a long-term initiative to build sustainable prosperity in communities across the region, using what its leaders called "place-based strategies."
In addition, Communities Unlimited is continuing the founding organizations' work with small businesses, entrepreneurs and community water and wastewater systems.
Bringing infrastructure expertise and local business development skills together in a single organization offers a new model for changing the economic trajectory of communities across the South, said Ines Polonius, executive director of alt.Consulting and the new chief executive officer of Communities Unlimited.
"Safe drinking water and local commerce are two fundamental building blocks of economic development, but alone they cannot lift a regional economy. By combining our skills and 55 years of combined hands-on experience in a single entity, we can bring more innovation and work more deeply with communities," Polonius said. "We will also collaborate with additional partners who focus on education, health care and other strategies that are essential for strong, sustainable communities."
Communities Unlimited will work in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. John Squires, founder and CEO of CRG, noted the region is home to 60 percent of the rural, persistently poor counties in the nation.
Achieving success across such a broad region has implications for the entire national economy, Squires said, adding that is a key reason why he looks forward to stepping out of the CEO role to focus on researching and crafting strategies for Communities Unlimited.
"We will approach this opportunity community-by-community, implementing place-based strategies that are created specifically for the individual location," Squires said. "And we will work deeply, perhaps for as much as 10 years with each community selected, making the long-term commitments necessary to achieve sustainable prosperity."
Chris Page, senior vice president of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in New York, told the Pine Bluff audience in a videotaped statement, "Communities Unlimited emerges from two organizations with a shared history of taking risks for social gain and crafting innovative responses to seemingly intractable problems. Following in-depth discussions on how we might collaborate, the two organizations concluded that the most efficient way to pursue their shared vision was to create a new organization."
Communities Unlimited is taking new risks to chart a future for itself, Page said, adding, "Our goal is to create more opportunities for more individuals to decide their future, build their own path to prosperity, and to create economies that will sustain them and generations to come." Page will chair the Communities Unlimited board of directors.
Since its founding in 1998, alt.Consulting has focused on the Delta region of Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. The organization has offices in Pine Bluff, Jonesboro and Memphis. While Communities Unlimited will be headquartered in Fayetteville, Polonius emphasized that the Delta remains a high priority.
"Our commitment to the Delta is unwavering, as signified by our decision to make this announcement in Pine Bluff rather than Fayetteville, Little Rock or Washington," Polonius said. "Those who are working with alt.Consulting or CRG today will not see anything different tomorrow. As we look further ahead, we see great opportunity to do even more with our valuable partners on the ground."
Communities Unlimited starts with an impressive record and resources from its founding organizations.
CRG, a member of the national Rural Community Assistance Partnership, was created in 1975 and each year it works with more than 500 communities across a seven-state service area. The nonprofit provides lending, training and on-site technical assistance for public water and wastewater systems in small communities. CRG also builds affordable homes and provides low-cost loans for home improvement along the Texas-Mexico border.
Since its launch in 1998, alt.Consulting has focused on training, managerial consulting and lending for small firms, along with developing "communities of innovation" in the Delta. It has assisted more than 3,800 small businesses and it has designed and implemented customized entrepreneurship strategies in two communities.
Both organizations are certified as Community Development Finance Institutions by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, allowing them to provide credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations. In the past 24 years, CRG has made 3,200 loans valued at $42 million while alt.Consulting made 51 small business loans totaling $700,000 in four years.
For more information, visit the Communities Unlimited website at www.communitiesU.org .
About Communities Unlimited:
Our mission: moving rural and under-resourced communities in areas of persistent poverty to sustainable prosperity. Our vision: Communities Unlimited works deeply in both rural and under-resourced communities located in areas of persistent poverty to combine fundamental infrastructure with economic/entrepreneurial growth strategies to move rural places along a trajectory toward prosperity. We create strong urban-rural connectedness for communities and their entrepreneurs, because we recognize that rural communities grow as part of a thriving regional economy.