Seeking Help for ALICE Arkansans

Harvey Williams Commentary

Seeking Help for ALICE Arkansans
Delta Dirt Distillery on historic Cherry Street in Helena. (Karen E. Segrave)

Like many Arkansas businesses, Delta Dirt Distillery is built on a solid foundation of multigenerational family farming. As the only Black-owned farm-to-bottle distillery in the U.S., Delta Dirt is rooted in history: 

► We were cultivated by my great-grandfather’s 86-acre farm and the brave actions his son, my grandfather, took to acquire the farm from sharecropping in 1949. 

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► My dad’s transformational steps to grow vegetables, specifically sweet potatoes, saved the farm from peril and led us to where we are today. 

► My wife, sons and I now carry the mantle by using sweet potatoes grown on the farm to craft our premium, award-winning vodka. 

► We are committed to building a farm-based business that has the potential to thrive for generations. 

The Arkansas Delta has been an important home for our family and business for more than 100 years. When it came time to open our business, we knew we wanted to breathe new life and energy into the area by opening our distillery in Helena-West Helena’s historic downtown — an area desperately in need of revitalization. We took a risk building a distillery in the middle of town, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised and a little caught off guard by the positive attention our business has brought to the community. It gives us so much joy to see the pride our neighbors have in purchasing items made in their hometown as gifts for family and friends. 

Our distillery is anchored on the corner of historic Cherry Street. But, like many things in the Delta, downtown has come into disrepair. We hope to change that! That’s why I serve as the Phillips County Chamber of Commerce president. Like many others across the state, we hope to cultivate intentional projects to support the growth of business and tourism in our region. 

Another thing we are doing to draw attention to the Delta’s needs is working with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) to rewrite the narrative around ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) Arkansans. The ALICE designation extends far beyond the Delta, with more than 40% of hardworking Arkansans struggling to achieve financial stability. Without proper assistance, these conditions become insurmountable to so many wanting to start and sustain their own business. I believe new approaches and intersectional collaborations can unlock potential for Arkansas entrepreneurs. In fact, we’re launching a pilot program in Helena-West Helena to connect downtown leasable spaces and existing small-business owners to aspiring entrepreneurs to offer advice and a pop-up workspace. 

In speaking with Cory Anderson, chief innovation officer of WRF, he agrees that entrepreneurship is but one key to a multifaceted solution to improve economic outcomes for ALICE. He once told me, “Beyond working toward innovative solutions to help new and emergent entrepreneurs get started and scale their ideas, business leaders can also support ALICE by offering competitive wages, family-supportive benefits, and flexible policies that provide a thriving quality of life.” And that is what I urge you to do.

Despite generational differences, my dad and granddad passed down similar leadership lessons to me. They said to decide what you believe to be most important and relentlessly focus on finding ways to make that happen. And my dad said that you should try to help others along your own journey. That’s why I’m partnering with WRF and Reimagine Arkansas on their Starshine Narrative Summit on June 30 at the Robinson Center in Little Rock. 

Arkansas has so much to offer its families, business owners, neighborhoods and communities. As fellow business leaders, I ask for your help to ensure Arkansas is a place where everyone can thrive. Join us in shining a light on ALICE Arkansans; join us as we craft a narrative that elevates and empowers all corners of the state.

Harvey Williams is CEO of Delta Dirt Distillery, the family-owned distillery he opened with his wife, Donna, and two sons on April 1, 2021.