Written by Emma Jones // Graphic by Wagner Valdez
The Searcy City Council and the Advertising and Tourism Promotion (A&P) Commission both approved two separate $70,000 funding requests for event planning, marketing and promotion for the solar eclipse set to take place April 8, 2024.
The city council approved the request from the city’s eclipse planning committee at the March City Council meeting held March 14. The A&P Commission approved a separate request from the committee March 28.
Searcy Mayor Mat Faulkner said one of the top priorities the funds are going toward is hiring a city eclipse coordinator.
“Any funds not used toward the coordinator fees could be used toward other expenses related to the event such as signage, communications, promotions and materials,” Faulkner said. “Once the executive committee is formalized and a coordinator hired, then a working budget will be developed.”
Faulkner said the eclipse planning committee was formed by the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce last year and that he attended a few of the meetings last year as a community member but has become more involved since taking office in January.
Katie Clement, manager of news services for University Communications and Marketing, is on the city eclipse planning committee as a representative for Harding. Clement said along with Searcy, the University has also started to put plans into place regarding the eclipse.
“We are still working out the details, but there will be a celebration on campus,” Clement said. “This will include opportunities to learn more about the eclipse itself, as well as fun activities for students, faculty and staff, and alumni to enjoy.”
Faulkner said the state of Arkansas is expecting the eclipse to be the largest tourism event in history for the state. White County will be in the path of totality during the eclipse.
“The [eclipse] committee will be making preparations on how local businesses may be able to accommodate an increase in customers,” Faulkner said. “We are taking into account the need for lodging, increased traffic and sanitation needs. Our goal is to prepare and promote Searcy through this unique opportunity.”
Dr. Will Waldron, assistant professor of engineering and physics, said he is pleased both Searcy and Harding are making preparations in advance for the eclipse.
“Many towns were caught off guard by the influx of people during the 2017 solar eclipse,” Waldron said. “I hope, by preparing early, we can maximize people’s experience rather than detract from it.”
Waldron also said it’s very significant that Searcy, and by extension, Harding, gets to host visitors for such an exciting astronomical event.
“For those of us of faith, the eclipse is simultaneously a humble reminder of how magnificent our God is,” Waldron said. “From the perspective of a scientist, it’s also really awesome that so many people get to experience a rare natural phenomenon.”