Ryan Watley has been named CEO-elect of Go Forward Pine Bluff, a volunteer group backed by Simmons First National Corp. that aims to stop the city’s population decline and bolster its tax base.
Watley, 30, is an assistant professor of chemistry and the assistant director of development for athletics at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. At Go Forward Pine Bluff, he’ll be responsible for coordinating with city officials and other organizations to execute Go Forward’s plan.
Founded in 2015, Go Forward Pine Bluff is a 100-volunteer group financed by Simmons First National Corp. and led by former CEO Tommy May and Simmons First Foundation board member Mary Pringos. The group has announced an ambitious plan of 27 proposals to revive a city marred by a crumbling downtown, sagging economy and crime.
The plan hinges on a public vote for a five-eighths-cent city sales tax that would raise some $32 million before lapsing after seven years. About $20 million more is planned via private fundraising. The vote is set for June 13.
Watley’s CEO position is contingent upon voter approval of the tax.
“Dr. Watley is the perfect person to oversee our efforts,” May said in a news release. “This is Pine Bluff’s best opportunity to attract businesses and ensure a promising future for our young people. We’ve seen the city’s population decline from 57,140 in 1990 to 44,772 in 2015. We must act now.”
A Pine Bluff native who returned to the city to work for UAPB in 2015, Watley played football and majored in chemistry at the university and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 2009. He then received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Oklahoma.
During his time in Oklahoma, Watley was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and a research associate in the Organic Chemistry Division. In 2015, he was the assistant to the athletic director for community outreach and fundraising at Rose State College in Midwest City, Oklahoma.
Watley said this CEO role “requires a keen focus on execution,” and that he’s “established a reputation of producing results.”
“I am thankful to my supervisors and the chancellor of UAPB for allowing me to explore this opportunity,” Watley told Arkansas Business in an email.
“I am very entrenched in the operations of campus and this was not an easy decision for me,” he siad. “However I have a relationship with Mayor [Shirley] Washington and believe in what she wants to accomplish. I envision myself working for Mayor Washington while satisfying the corporation’s board desire for timely and effective results. We should all be confident in this multifaceted operation because the foundation has been laid that we are one Pine Bluff, stronger together.”