by Dwain Hebda
Alisha Curtis is in the business of telling stories, specifically that of the opportunities that await entrepreneurs and existing businesses alike in the state of Arkansas. Curtis was named Chief Communications and Legislative Director for the Arkansas Department of Commerce in July.
“We want to showcase Arkansas,” she says. “We know that once people visit Arkansas, they have a much better chance of doing business here because of our incredible natural beauty and everything that we have to offer.”
“(As Department of Commerce) I think that we’re going to be able to better serve Arkansas all together and continue to help promote and grow our communities.”
Curtis, 34, hails from Benton. After attending the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and UA Little Rock where she received a degree in mass communications, she landed as finance director for the Republican Party of Arkansas, a role she served in for four years. During her tenure, she oversaw the organization’s fundraising activities, supporting a $500,000 annual budget and a $1.2 million budget in election years. She also contributed to the organization’s major event planning, working to bring high-profile political leaders to the state.
In 2015, she went to work in Governor Asa Hutchinson’s office as executive assistant to the governor, director of special projects and economic development liaison. It was a role that gave her a number of unique growth opportunities from planning an inaugural to learning the finer points of the state’s business environment through the AEDC.
In her latest role, she gets to put all of that experience together as she looks to coordinate the 10 agency communications entities that make up the Department of Commerce. She will also assist in working with the governor’s office directly, helping in the legislative process by providing review support of bills before they are submitted.
“I’m being charged with branding Commerce and working with communications directors throughout all of our divisions to streamline our processes and work to have a cohesive voice,” she says.
“It’s unique because we have outward facing agencies and then we’ve got our three regulatory agencies that have joined us, too. We’ve got the Banking Department and the Insurance Department and the Securities Department. We’re finding efficiencies and ways to share services across the board.”
Pulling these agencies into a cohesive operations protocol isn’t easy, and Curtis says she is taking best practices from a wide range of sources, including other state government entities.
“It is a challenge, but it’s a very exciting challenge and an opportunity to better show Arkansas and work more efficiently as one department,” she says. “I’ve got a communications working group on the state level that Transformation Shared Services holds. I am able to share my ideas and gather information from the Department of Health and the Department of Heritage and Tourism.”
“Everybody is going through the same transformation that we are. We happen to be a brand-new department, but it’s a good way to share ideas and see how everybody else is doing things.”
Curtis says the individual departments already have a good working relationship with local and regional media which is a major plus in telling the state’s story. She says going forward, she wants to help position the Department of Commerce foremost in media members’ minds as a resource.
“My role is to elevate (Department of) Commerce, so that we have more of a presence as one team, much like Commerce on the national level,” she says. “I would like to see when anybody thinks of economic development or insurance, I want them to think Commerce. We’re making great strides right now to make that happen.”
Away from work, Curtis is highly engaged in community events and organizations. Earlier this year, the Women’s Foundation named her its Woman of the Year in Philanthropy. Among her community service outlets are the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Children’s Tumor Foundation where she earned Best Performance during that event’s Dancing With Our Stars.
“The first lady started me out with the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas,” she says. “I’ve been on the board ever since its creation and chaired its Women of Inspiration event. The organization assists abused children across the state and since the creation of Woman of Inspiration gala, we have been able to add more and more centers across the state so that children and their caretakers will not have to travel as long a distance to get the help they need.”
“Another group which is very personal to me is the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, because of Commerce Secretary Mike Preston. He and his wife are both carriers of cystic fibrosis and last year they were expecting a child who had a 25 percent chance of having that life-threatening illness. I will forever be involved with Cystic Fibrosis because of them.”
Photo courtesy of Sarah Odeon and Inviting Arkansas