About Alliance for Rural Impact
The Alliance for Rural Impact is a nonprofit organization serving rural and tribal communities across America. We are a collective partnership of technical assistance experts focused on community equity for rural and tribal regions. Our team is solutions-focused and adept in financial stabilization and growth, strategic planning and analysis, capacity building and long-term implementation of priorities. Our ultimate goal is to bring about positive changes that result in community prosperity.
The Alliance for Rural Impact is designed to provide all aspects of the community and economic development process utilizing unique and comprehensive delivery methodology. We identify a community’s foundational assets and drive progress until outcomes are achieved.
Areas We Serve
Alliance for Rural Impacts serves communities in our home state of Arkansas and throughout the Delta and Mid-South regions. This encompasses portions of Texas, the Great Plains and Appalachia.
Jordan Wimpy, President
Jordan is an attorney with the Little Rock law firm of Mitchell Williams Selig Gates &Woodyard, PLLC. A native of Arkansas, Jordan earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Jordan studied law at Vermont Law School and received both his juris doctor and Master of Environmental Law & Policy degrees with high honors in 2012.Prior to joining Mitchell Williams, Jordan practiced law with Gill Ragon Owen, P.A., in Little Rock, and the Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Jordan’s practice focuses on environmental, agricultural, energy, natural resource, and property law, with a particular emphasis onagricultural operations and local governments.Jordan also provides advice and counsel to landowners and local governments regarding land use, environmental mitigation/reclamation standards, federal land management, and complex regulatory matters.
Sanaz Arjomand, Vice President
Sanaz currently serves as a Legislative Affairs Specialist at the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Production and Conservation mission area. Previously, she worked as the National Young Farmers Coalition’s federal policy director, leading the Coalition’s legislative strategy and implementation. Prior to this role, she spent three years at the helm of the federal policy team at American Farmland Trust. She has also managed a rural school garden as a service member for Arkansas GardenCorps and worked as a farmer’s apprentice at Full Sun Farm in western North Carolina. Sanaz holds an MS in Environmental Policy from the Bard College Center for Environmental Policy and a BA in Political Science from the College of Charleston.
Jim Shenep, Treasurer
Jim is a native of Pine Bluff, AR. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville with a B.S. in Business Administration, American Bankers Association Graduate Trust School, Cannon Trust School and College of Certified Financial Planning. Jim managed the Trust Department of Delta Trust & Bank from 2000 – 2014, until it was acquired by Simmons First National Bank.
Brian is a manager in Economic Development Advisory Services at Ernst & Young LLP. He has more than twenty years of experience in community and economic development, serving in executive-level positions at the local, regional, and federal levels.
Brian has led projects for more than fifty clients, specializing in federally funded Economic Development Districts and comprehensive economic development strategies. He co-authored Measuring Regional Innovation, an economic development research guidebook published by the Council on Competitiveness, and his analysis on economic and labor market issues has been cited by numerous media outlets, as well as the White House.
Prior to joining EY, Brian’s public service career included roles as chief strategy officer in Nashville, Tennessee, city management in Edinburg, Texas, and senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, where he helped create a new, award-winning initiative resulting in 5,000 jobs created, 4,000 workers trained, and 300 businesses launched.
Brian is a frequent public speaker and economic development instructor, including five years as adjunct faculty teaching graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin.
Bytha Mills currently serves as Vice President of Human Resources for E. Ritter & Company. She has over 25 years of progressive experience in the field of Human Resources. She is involved in strategic planning, program development, recruiting/talent management, labor/employee relations, training, employee benefits, and directs day-to-day operations. Prior to joining E. Ritter in 2015, she was VP of Human Resources for Luvata’s Heat-Transfer Solutions (HTS) Corporate from 2011-2015, and Director of Human Resources at the division level. From 2009-2011 she was President of Mills HR Talent Consulting, LLC, an Executive Recruiter/HR Consultant. From 1997-2009 she was VP of Human Resources for Intermet Corporation, a publicly traded global tier-one manufacturing supplier to the automotive industry that transitioned to privately held company. Intermet Corporation employed up to 5,000 employees at 18 manufacturing plants in the U.S. and International.
Bytha graduated from Arkansas State University with a B.S. in Accounting and later received a M.S. in Human Resources from Indiana Wesleyan University. Bytha and her husband, Chris, currently live in Hernando, Mississippi and have one son and two grandchildren.
Justin Archer Burch is the national director of workforce development and small business at Rural LISC. Through Local Initiative Support Corporation, Justin serves rural partners across 49 states and Puerto, helping them identify challenges and opportunities, and delivering the most appropriate support to meet local needs around economic challenges. In 2019, Justin started Rural Works – a new workforce development initiative that leverages the momentum of rural communities to reimagine and redevelop the workforce systems that impact their communities. Rural Works ensures stronger connections between training providers and industry; strengthens pathways that lead to industry recognized credentials and livable wage employment for rural workers; and highlights the innovation of rural markets to problem solve and foster a 21st century economy. Justin previously served as Director of Programs at Delta Regional Authority under the Obama Administration and served as the director of the Delta Workforce Funding Collaborative at Foundation for the Mid-South. Justin has been named a W.K. Kellogg Foundation Fellow, earned the National Fund for Workforce Solutions Investor Committee Award for Systems Change, and has backboned and championed several initiatives in the South where he lives with his wife, Cameryn Miller, and daughter, Catherine Lawrence and son, Archer Henry.
Jamie R. Wright, Executive Director
Jamie R. Wright is co-founder and Executive Director of Alliance for Rural Impact (ARI), a nonprofit organization serving rural and tribal America. ARI is a collective partnership of technical assistance experts focused on community equity. The ARI team is solutions-focused and adept in financial stabilization and growth, strategic planning and analysis, capacity building and long-term implementation that brings about positive changes and community prosperity. Jamie leads marketing, outreach and networking efforts for the organization along with curriculum design, implementation, research, and resource identification.
Jamie is a natural connector and spends much of her time interacting with community and economic development professionals as well as development finance practitioners to advocate for and advance the ARI mission. She designs organizational marketing, website and communication materials as well as ARI’s agricultural financial literacy curriculum.
Previously, Jamie served as Deputy Director at East Arkansas Planning and Development District where she administered and managed a $2.6 million US Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Sustainability Planning Grant. She managed a team that developed, administered and implemented over 300 economic and community development projects with an average investment total of $25 million per year. Jamie coordinated the development of a regional food system analysis for 15 counties in the tri-state region, which led to the development of a collaborative value-chain distribution program.
Prior to her time at EAPDD, Jamie served as Economic Development Director for the City of Harrisburg. During this time, she founded the Harrisburg Historic District and subsequent Farmers Market as well as planned and managed the largest in-fill project for the City at that time. She also founded the Harrisburg High School Alumni Association, a nonprofit organization that works to provide academic scholarships to local students.
Jamie serves as the mission coordinator and administrator for the Bread of Life Food Pantry, a mission of the Harrisburg First United Methodist Church and Harrisburg Ministerial Alliance. The Pantry serves western Poinsett County residents in need, supports the local school district backpack program, oversees meal delivery to homebound residents and is fiscal agent and support to the Mobile Bread of Life Food Pantry, which serves community college campuses in the northeast United Methodist district. Jamie currently serves as a board member to the Arkansas State University Methodist Ministry, Wesley Foundation. She is a former member of the City of Harrisburg Economic Development Committee and Crossroads Coalition’s Delta Leadership development committee.
Jamie holds a Bachelor of Science in Journalism with an emphasis in Public Relations and a minor in Marketing from Arkansas State University.
Jennifer G. Watkins,Director of Operations
Jennifer G. Watkins is the co-founder and Director of Operations for the Alliance for Rural Impact (ARI), a mission-driven nonprofit and emerging CDFI based in Northeast Arkansas. The organization is designed to assist rural and tribal communities with implementation by providing needed resources such as expertise, capital and a vast network of partners and advocates from across the nation. The ARI team is solutions-focused and adept in financial stabilization and growth, strategic planning and analysis, capacity building and long-term implementation that brings about positive changes and community prosperity. Jennifer leads project and program development efforts on behalf of ARI, along with curriculum design, implementation, research, resource identification and fundraising.
Jennifer is a strong advocate for rural communities, spending her entire career of over 20 years working to improve the economic and quality of life conditions of small towns and tribes around the country. Implementation has always been a focus of her work. For rural communities, this requires creative thinking, partnership development and unrelenting determinedness, all skills Jennifer has honed and now brings to ARI.
Prior to founding ARI, Jennifer worked for a small consulting firm conducting strategic planning efforts in over 35 communities across the country. She served as the lead consultant for a $4 million, 12-county regional planning effort for the East Arkansas Planning & Development District, a project that introduced her to the Delta region. It was this project – in a place where rural poverty is rampant – that inspired the development of ARI.
Before embarking on her consulting journey, Jennifer served for thirteen years as a local practitioner in her hometown in rural eastern Oregon. Jennifer worked with local businesses to develop sound business plans, access financing, diversify their products, reach larger markets and plan for their futures. She also completed several multi-million-dollar projects, developed successful economic development campaigns, facilitated long-range planning processes and secured millions of dollars in grant funding. She has served on dozens of boards and committees in her community, all with the mission of improving the economy and livability for its residents.
Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Eastern Oregon University, with a concentration in Leadership, Organization & Management.
Rural Impact believes in getting things done. Achievement is the cornerstone of all we do. Strategic planning is only useful if it results in successful implementation. Capacity building can only be sustained with a steady flow of important projects. Achievement – for Rural Impact – goes beyond just crossing tasks off of a list. It’s the idea of a community working together to accomplish more than they could individually and with a greater purpose in mind.
For the purposes of Rural Impact, a community is defined as an organization, town, city, county, tribe or region collaborating to improve the economic conditions and overall quality of life of its citizens. Yet, there is also an intangible quality to a community that defines it more than a geographic boundary. Shared backgrounds, cultures and values create a common sense of purpose among residents and leaders. Channeling that purpose toward a collective vision is the aim of Rural Impact.
Transformative change takes hard work, dedication and commitment. In order to engage people over the long term, inspiration must be built into the project at every step. The Rural Impact methods empower citizens to set and achieve goals that are important – and inspirational – to them.
Our team of professionals has a proven track record of accomplishment and accountability. By working closely with each community, we build a strong foundation of trust through open discussions and fulfillment of our promises. Each of the communities we work with becomes our home – and we insist upon loyalty, honesty and ethical behavior from all members of our team.
At Rural Impact, we put the needs of our clients first. Our role is to guide the community and economic development process, providing clients not only with outstanding results, but also with an exceptional experience from beginning to end. Demonstrating a positive attitude and commitment to quality at all times creates an immeasurable positive impact on the communities we serve.
No one can achieve true success alone; the right team is important for any organization to succeed. Our team is built on the shared values of Achievement, Community, Inspiration, Integrity and Professionalism. From our board of directors, to our founding partners, to our collaborating organizations, we are committed to common goals, an environment of open communication, and continuous support for our clients and each other.