Nonprofit aims to improve economy in middle America

Morning In America

(NewsNation) — A nonprofit organization is focused on improving the economy of some U.S. states that don’t get the lion’s share of the headlines.

Heartland Forward hosted a summit in Bentonville, Arkansas with a focus on economic development in the America’s heartland.

“The middle of the country needs the coast just as much as the coasts need the middle of the country,” said Angie Cooper, executive director of Heartland Summit.

There are so many states across this country that are dubbed “flyovers.” Heartland Forward is hoping to change that by working to make the heartland the heartbeat of this country.

“If it’s just coastal cities that are creating this ambiance in this quality of life quality, of place. It’s hard to see how you can participate in it,” said Ross Devol, CEO of Heartland Forward. “But if you see somebody across the border or down the road that’s doing it, you begin to believe, ‘Well, they can do it. We can too.'”

Leaders from all industries stopped in at the summit to gameplan a strategy to help middle America with job creation, improved health care, politics and art.

“So when we talk about how do we kickstart economic growth in the middle of the country, we know we need to modernize our policies, we need to think about new ways, quality of life,” Cooper said. “We all know it, we live and breathe it. We want to live in a place that you can do the things you enjoy.”

For organizers, politicians and even star musical acts, the mission is based on potential within the heartland.

“We’re trying to improve economic performance here so that people have a similar standard of living to coastal America,” Devol said. “There’s been this idea that the center of the country cannot grow as quickly, cannot create the jobs, the high-quality jobs as other parts of the country.”

Putting planning into practice from anytown, USA to Mayberry. Heartland Forward has a target on middle America, aiming at a brighter future.

“You can’t have a strong country if you don’t have a strong heart,” said Steuart Walton, co-founder of Runway Group and grandson of Walmart founder Sam Walton. “And we’re really trying to drive that forward here.”

Walton says, “There’s no question” the heartland has been overlooked.

“If you get out and visit some of these towns, it’s almost impossible to not come to that conclusion,” he said. “The great news is that there’s a lot of bright spots and more emerging all the time.”

Walton touts cities like Des Moines, Iowa and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Cities “right here in Northwest Arkansas are really starting to come into their own,” he said. “They’re having their own identity, their own cultural, kind of renaissance in a way, and they’re showing other cities and communities in the heartland, that it’s possible to thrive and grow and be really prosperous and provide opportunity to everybody that lives there, but also to people who are considering moving there from afar,”

Watch the full interview with Steuart Walton in the video player above.

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