It’s not necessarily a homecoming for Steven Lamm, but it feels like one.
On March 15, Lamm begins his new job as vice president of economic development for Jonesboro Unlimited, returning to the city where he graduated Arkansas State University and met his future spouse.
“It’s exciting for me and my family personally to come back to Jonesboro,” Lamm said. “It’s a community that has shaped my life and really connected me to my personal career. I met my wife at ASU and to say that it’s meaningful to improve the economic outlook in Jonesboro is important to me personally.”
Lamm, 35, is a native of Bismarck. He earned a bachelor of science degree in international business at ASU and a master of science degree in emergency management and homeland security at Arkansas Tech.
Lamm worked as a graduate assistant and lead planner at ATU before joining Gov. Mike Beebe’s staff as personal assistant, where he served from 2012-2015. Lamm was a project manager at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) before moving on to his previous job as vice president of workforce development in Fort Smith.
Admittedly, it’s been a bit of a journey from Arkansas State and back again.
“If you talk to anybody that works in economic development, I don’t think they will tell you when they were graduating or going to college they’d say, ‘Man, I want to be an economic developer,’ ” Lamm said.
Lamm developed his interest in economic development while working under Beebe. He said he enjoyed “the opportunity to get to see his passion for Arkansas and appreciate that he had the motivation to help Arkansans that didn’t let him rest or slow down.”
Lamm honed his know-how in his role as project manager at AEDC, where he worked with site selection consultants in trying to attract and expand businesses and incentivize economic growth. At Fort Smith his focus was on career development through building relationships between area schools and employers.
Returning to Jonesboro with his wife Emily and two-year-old son James, Lamm finds a sound platform from which to try to enhance and expand the economy.
“At the end of the day it’s not a place that’s missing any key ingredients to success,” he said. “I think that’s represented by the growth they’ve seen.”
The Jonesboro area added 842 jobs in the pandemic year of 2020 — which included severe damage from a spring tornado — and, at the end of the fourth year of its five-year economic development plan, has totaled close to 4,000 jobs created. With another five-year plan being charted, Lamm said he is excited about what’s already in place and the potential for more thanks to the region’s infrastructure, workforce, recruitment and quality of life.
“I wouldn’t say recession proof,” Lamm said when asked, “but I think Jonesboro mirrors the diversity of the economy in Arkansas. … We might not see 10%, 12% 15% [unemployment] other communities have but when we have hard times we’re able to take a hit.”
Jonesboro’s primary economic sectors include manufacturing, agriculture, education, service/hospitality, logistics and health care. It’s a diverse lineup that Lamm doesn’t want to neglect while also trying to attract new industries.
There are targeted industries within the new five-year plan and Lamm said, from the flat lands that are perfect locations to the local workforce, the Jonesboro area is able to accommodate.
“They have infrastructure. They have sites. They’ve got the population center and the workforce training to meet those needs,” he said.
His work has taken him to different communities in the state and elsewhere, and Lamm has seen good ideas implemented. But each community is different, he said, with myriad local decisions to be made, so rather than borrow or adapt too many ideas, he is most interested in working with the aspects that are unique to Jonesboro.
“Jonesboro is going to be able to continue to build those infrastructure offerings and that’s really going to be the ticket to the game,” he said.