Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Jefferson County Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.

Occasionally an out-of-town meeting turns out differently than expected. And with many more local connections, too.

Alliance President Lou Ann Nisbett, who also serves as executive director for the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority, recently accepted an invitation to participate in the afternoon session of an Oct. 17 “career education event” in Little Rock.

Nisbett knew that the theme for the event would be “River Works Discovery: Who Works the Rivers.” It would be held at Pulaski Technical College, and the Arkansas Waterways Association (AWA) would have a booth detailing information about the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System.

She didn’t know until arriving that she’d be needed to help man that booth. Or that she’d be telling a group of more than 50 high school students about the importance of the Port of Pine Bluff to our local existing and prospective industries. Or that this group of students coming through in the afternoon would all be from Jefferson County.

Nisbett reports that they asked “very good questions,” and she was pleased that several had knowledgeable responses to her opening question: “What do you know about the Arkansas River?”

The participating 11th and 12th graders were students from Dollarway, Pine Bluff, Watson Chapel and White Hall high schools who are also enrolled in off-campus, career training classes at the Jefferson Area Technical Career Center (JATCC), which is now located at 2505 W. 18th Ave. in Pine Bluff in the Workforce Development Center at Southeast Arkansas College.

About 150 students from high schools in Pulaski County attended the morning session of this free career event.

The river-focused event, incidentally, was for grades 11-12. It was designed as an introduction for students to Arkansas’ maritime industry in partnership with Arkansas ports. According to the program, attendees were able to meet with representatives from the maritime industry and related fields in a mini-career fair, participate in a mini-deckhand training, and tour a towboat and the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum.

Among the river industries represented with a booth at the event was Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co.

A new brochure produced by the Arkansas Waterways Commission and featuring the river ports of Arkansas was available at the AWA booth. And a recently-filmed video with “Arkansas port people talking about the river” was showing at the booth. As the video looped, Nisbett was easily visible promoting the Port of Pine Bluff and industries at the Port Authority’s Harbor Industrial District.