Commissioner Bios

 

Bryan Barnhouse

Bryan is committed to helping advance his adopted state of Arkansas through the creation of economic development opportunities. As Vice President of the Arkansas Research Alliance, he connects the state’s rich scientific and research communities at Arkansas universities and the state’s only FDA lab, the National Center for Toxicological Research, to foster economic value. Bryan served as Director of Economic Development for the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, where he helped create prosperity in the Arkansas Delta through the recruitment of new industries and the expansion of existing businesses. Prior to that, he was the International Project Manager for Asia at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), the official global business development agency for the State of Arkansas. He oversaw programs on foreign direct investment recruitment and trade opportunities with Asia. He joined AEDC as the Community Development Consultant for Northwest Arkansas. Before relocating to Arkansas, Bryan worked at the International City/County Management Association in Washington, D.C., coordinating federal business development and managing military and technology projects.

As a nine-year member and former Chair of the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission, he helps cultivate relationships and partnerships between Little Rock and cities around the world, particularly with Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, for which he serves as the commission co-liaison.

Bryan holds a Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from the University of Southern California. He resides in downtown Little Rock with his wife, Jennifer, and their two rescue dogs.

 

Melanie Berman

Melanie Berman works at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Office. She is currently serving as the Program Director of the Arkansas Procurement Assistance Center (APAC), working with local small businesses and partner organizations to ensure the overall economic well-being of the State of Arkansas.

Melanie holds a graduate degree in Public Administration and undergraduate degree in Communications. She has lived in multiple countries, including Spain, Israel, Russia, Mexico, Japan, and Madagascar. Melanie has served as a Peace Corps volunteer and an AmeriCorps volunteer. She has a strong passion for serving her community as displayed by her commitment to public service.

She currently serves as the Vice-Chairperson of the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission and as the co-liaison to Hanam City, South Korea. Melanie chaperoned the Mayor’s Youth Leadership student group to Hanam City, South Korea in 2015 and 2016.

 

Esperanza M. Crane

Esperanza was born and raised in Santa Tecla, El Salvador. She is the Marketing Director for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the state agency in charge of creating economic opportunity by attracting higher paying jobs and expanding and diversifying the state and local economies. In her role, Esperanza is in charge of implementing marketing strategies to recruit national and international business to support the mission of AEDC. She previously worked in the Business Development division, where she worked as project manager on both foreign and domestic business development initiatives for AEDC.

Prior to her time at AEDC, Esperanza spent seven years as an account executive and research manager at CJRW, leading multi-channel marketing efforts for a number of agency clients, as well managing qualitative and quantitative marketing research efforts to support such. She also served as Assistant to the General Manager of Nine West Group in El Salvador, where she was responsible for product merchandising and oversight of marketing activities for six Nine West stores across five different countries in Central America.

Community involvement and supporting education initiatives are lifelong passions of Esperanza’s . She currently serves on the Board of Director for the Girls Scouts Diamonds of Arkansas. She is a graduate of the Greater Little Rock Class XXX and a graduate of Leadership Arkansas Class XII. In 2018, Esperanza was recognized in Arkansas Business’ “40 Under 40” list.

Esperanza graduated with honors from Harding University with a double major in Marketing and International Business and has an MBA from Harding University, where she also served as Adjunct Professor for International Business. She speaks fluent Spanish and German, as well as intermediate French. She lives in the Hillcrest community of Little Rock with her husband Christopher, son Sebastián, and their three furry rescue pets.

Odessa G. Darrough

Rev. Dr. Odessa G. Darrough serves as Pastor of New Light CME Church in Nashville, Arkansas.  Dr. Darrough previously served as pastor of Trinity CME Church in Magnolia, Allen Temple CME Church in Crossett and Penny Chapel CME Church in Parkdale.  Dr. Darrough’s career with AT&T represents 33 years of caring and sharing through her managerial and human resources skills.  After retiring in 2003, she continues her love for people by passionately volunteering her time and talents. Dr. Darrough is an advocate for healthier lifestyles and promoting civil and human rights.   She currently serves in the following positions: member Little Rock Sister Cities Commission; member Governing Board of Arkansas Hospice; member of the Supervisory Committee for Telcoe Federal Credit Union, and National Ambassador for AARP Create The Good Program. Other positions include former Chair of the Board of Directors of Arkansas Hospice and current member of the Society of Human Resource Management, P.E.O. International and Sigma Beta Delta Honor Society.  She is founder of the Annual Minority Health Fair held in Crossett, Little Rock and Nashville; and the Annual Little Rock Community Connection Civil Rights Summit and Community Festival.  Dr. Darrough serves as President and CEO of Innovative Lifestyles for Senior Living, Inc.

Dr. Darrough holds a BA in Organizational Management from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, MA in Business and Human Resources Development from Webster University in Little Rock, Arkansas and a Doctorate in Business Administration with emphasis in Human Resources Management from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  

Dr. Darrough is a native of Arkansas and has two grown sons and five grandchildren.  She enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and gardening. 

Edward Haddock 

Edward Haddock is an Arkansas native that recently returned to the central Arkansas area to help shape and support Arkansas’ entrepreneurial ecosystem with an eye on inclusion. In his professional role as US Small Business Administration District Director, he is responsible for the delivery of all SBA programs and services which include the loan guaranty program that delivered over $6 billion in assistance to Arkansas small businesses and nonprofits through more than 105 lending partners. His office also provides Arkansas small businesses connections and growth opportunities in government contracting, export development, and counseling services for all 75 counties in Arkansas.

Edward has supported numerous international development activities with organizations such as Global Ties Arkansas and the Eisenhower Fellowship which hosted diplomats from Russia,Ukraine, El Salvador and Saudi Arabia. In 2017 he was selected to for outbound citizen diplomacy project in Murmansk Russia, promoting small business investments in adventure tourism. 

Prior to the SBA, Edward served on active duty with the U.S. Air Force. Edward’s 12 years of active-duty service included work as a Resource Manager, Flight Chief, Instructor and Flying Crew Chief working in over 32 countries supporting both humanitarian and combat operations.
 
Edward was recognized as Arkansas Business 2019 class of 40 under 40, and most recently as one of Arkansas 250 most influential leaders in 2020. Edward holds an MBA from Rutgers University and Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management from John Brown University. He routinely volunteers to mentor in the Big Brothers of Central Arkansas program, is married, and lives in Little Rock

Deneen Hill

Deneen Hill is a native of Haiti, Missouri and relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas with her family as a young girl.

Shortly after graduating high school, she left for California and spent several years working in Beverly Hills, California, while attending Barclays School of Business. After finishing her academic studies in California, Deneen returned to Arkansas to start her career in international banking. She worked for several years in international trade and finance before accepting a request to help start an intercity private school.

Over the course of her long and varied career, Deneen has worked in education, sales management, and finance, while also pursuing other passions, such as interior design, health and fitness, sewing, and jewelry-making.

One of Deneen's latest passions is volunteering at Little Rock Central High School, her alma mater. She has enjoyed helping young at-risk girls realize their true potential and focus on bettering themselves for their future.

Deneen has served on the Governor's Board of Abstinence Education, where she was responsible for reviewing grants submitted by non-profit organizations state-wide, and on the committee for the American Girl Fashion Show at the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI). She currently serves on the board of the Arkansas Fashion School and was recently appointed to the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission.

Deneen and her former husband have three adult children, Lesley, Jonathan, and Ashley. Most recently, she has kept busy by a new addition to the family in Bella, a West Highland White Terrier.

Lenka Horakova

Lenka Horakova is the President of the LH Global Solutions, LLC, a consulting company that helps international companies succeed in the global marketplace. Lenka has more than ten years of experience in economic development, foreign direct investment (FDI) and trade. She was a Vice President at Arkansas Capital Corporation (ACC) where she worked primarily with Asian investors interested in obtaining EB-5 visas. Lenka also spent nearly a decade as Director of Global Business Development – Europe at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) assisting European companies to expand in Arkansas. While at the AEDC, Lenka participated in a number of international trade shows and organized several investment and trade missions for the state’s governors.

Lenka was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the Arkansas District Export Council (ArDEC), an organization of business leaders whose expertise in international business provides a source of professional advice for the region’s firms. She was elected to serve as the ArDEC Chair in 2018 and 2019. Lenka has been a speaker at Export University®, an ArDEC program providing export training and education. She also taught International Business Management at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock in 2017.

Lenka serves as the first ever Czech Honorary Consul for the State of Arkansas. With her strong network on both sides of the Atlantic, Lenka supports bilateral economic and trade relations between the Czech Republic, the European Union and the United States. She also enjoys organizing the annual Czech That Film festival in Little Rock.

Passionate about her community, Lenka has joined several non-profit boards and organizations, including the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute Foundation Fund Board, the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission, the Rotary Club, the Arkansas Women’s Leadership Forum, the Organization of Women in International Trade, and the Donaghey Scholars Alumni Board.

Lenka is a 2005 honors MBA graduate of the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. She obtained her undergraduate BA degree in finance and international business from the same institution. She is a member of the Leadership Arkansas Class XI and the Leadership Greater Little Rock Class XXVI. In 2018, Arkansas Business magazine included Lenka on its “40 under 40” list, which highlights rising business and political leaders from across Arkansas. Little Rock Soiree magazine highlighted her among “Women to Watch 2018.”

Lenka is fluent in English and Czech. She also speaks German and Slovak.

 

Jill McIlroy

For the past eight years, Jill has worked for Arkansas Children’s, the only pediatric hospital system in the state. Jill was recently promoted to executive director of Philanthropy leading the charge to raise philanthropic investments for Arkansas Children’s Inc. Jill most recently focused her fundraising efforts in Northwest Arkansas where one the nation’s newest pediatric hospitals, Arkansas Children’s Northwest, opened in February 2018.   

A native of Arkansas, Jill received her B.A. in International Relations and Global Studies from Hendrix College. Jill is active with the Arkansas Charitable Gift Planning Council, Association for Healthcare Philanthropy and Association of Fundraising Professionals. She also serves as a commissioner on the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission. In her spare time, Jill enjoys running, fishing and hanging out with her family

 

 

Brandon Morris

Brandon Morris serves as director - public affairs at Union Pacific Railroad. He is responsible for the development and implementation of Union Pacific's strategy and policy for state government affairs, community relations, public partnerships and philanthropic programs in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Morris serves as the chairman of the Arkansas Railroad Association and the Oklahoma Railroad Association.

Prior to joining Union Pacific in 2014, Morris served as public information officer at the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM). From 2008 to 2013, he worked for SAIC and served as the public affairs and outreach liaison for the Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility on the U.S. Army Pine Bluff Arsenal.

Morris holds a Bachelor of Science - Journalism from Arkansas State University - Jonesboro and a Masters of Public Administration from Webster University. He serves on the Arkansas State University Alumni Association board of directors and is involved with the Arkansas Chapter of Public Relations Society of America. Morris is also Accredited in Public Relations and Military Communication (APR+M). In 2016, he was recognized by Arkansas Business on their 20 in their 20s: New Influentials list.

 

Denver Peacock

Denver brings more than 20 years of experience to The Peacock Group, the public affairs and public relations firm he founded in 2014. He previously worked for nearly 12 years at CJRW, the Mid-South’s largest independent full-service communications agency. While there, he served on the company’s leadership team, including as senior vice president and a member of the board of directors. Prior to CJRW, Denver provided political, communications and logistical support for The Prince of Wales Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Napster and others. He also worked on two presidential campaigns and served in The White House during the Clinton Administration. In total, Denver has traveled to more than 95 countries and all 50 U.S. states. 

A licensed attorney, Denver earned his undergraduate degree with honors at Ouachita Baptist University and his law degree with honors from the University of Arkansas School of Law. He is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and International Association of Business Communicators. He serves on the advisory boards for the UAMS College of Public Health and Arkansas’ Independent Colleges & Universities; as an assembly delegate for PRSA Arkansas; and as a commissioner with the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission. He is a former board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, Rotary Club of Little Rock and IABC Arkansas. He is a graduate of the Delta Leadership Institute Executive Academy and a member of the Delta Leadership Network. He is the co-founder of Hoops for Kids Sake, the annual bipartisan legislative charity basketball game between the Arkansas House and Arkansas Senate. Originally from McCrory, he is married to Melissa Bragg Peacock and has two children, Presley and Hudson.

 

Ashvin Vibhakar

Dr. Ashvin P. Vibhakar, CFA, has been an Executive Sponsor and a Senior Advisor of the Future of Finance initiative since September 2012 at CFA Institute. The Future of Finance initiative is a long-term global effort to shape a trustworthy, forward-thinking financial industry that better serves society. The initiative aims to provide the tools to motivate and empower the world of finance to commit to fairness, improved understanding, and personal integrity.

Dr. Vibhakar joined CFA Institute in 2007 as managing director, Asia-Pacific Operations. He was based in Hong Kong and was responsible for developing and implementing various operating strategies in the Asia Pacific region, including society relations, employer and university outreach candidate recruitment and support, and member services.

Previously, Dr. Vibhakar was director of the Institute for Economic Advancement in the College of Business Administration at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). His distinguished career included numerous academic roles, including Dean of the College of Business Administration at UALR. He has held several board positions.

To assume his position working with CFA Institute, Dr. Vibhakar resigned from his role as an elected member of the Board of Governors of CFA Institute, a role in which he also served on committees for Audit and Risk and External Relations and Volunteer Involvement. He also served in a number of other volunteer capacities including Governors Economic Advisory Council, Board member of various non-profits and taking the lead role for the strategic economic development plan for the city of Little Rock under Mayor Jim Daily. He was a member of Little Rock Arvest Bank board prior to leaving for his role in Hong Kong.

Dr. Vibhakar received his PhD in finance from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, his M.B.A from Central Missouri State University, and his Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from M.S. University of Baroda, India.

Ben Walters

Ben Walters currently serves as International Business Development Manager for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC). At AEDC, he develops and manages programs for foreign direct investment. He is tasked with recruiting new businesses, maintaining key relationships with entities around the world, managing international business development projects, etc. Prior to joining AEDC, he served as State Program Manager for the Office of Budget in the Department of Finance and Administration.

A graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Ben holds a B.S. in International Economics with a minor in East Asian Studies from the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville and earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the prestigious universities, Peking University and the National University of Singapore, focusing on finance and corporate strategy. Ben gained a wealth of experience in nearly a decade in East Asia.

Outside of work, Ben spends his recreational time enjoying the abundant natural resources around Arkansas, volunteering, and exploring cultural dimensions. A member of Leadership Arkansas Class XIV, he has recently been appointed to the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission and is excited to further extend relationships between Little Rock and its Sister Cities.

Robert Zeiler

Robert received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering in 1994 from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee. He was employed for 5+ years by Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) as a technology and management consultant.

In 1999, he formed UtiliComm, Inc., a Birmingham, Alabama-based company that provided engineering consulting and specialized horizontal directional drilling services to customers in the utility and communications industries. After selling UtiliComm, Inc. in 2006, Robert attended the University of Arkansas, where he obtained an M.B.A. with emphasis in Finance.

In 2008, he joined Chesapeake Energy’s Little Rock Corporate Development team where he assisted with Government Affairs and Public Relations initiatives. Following Chesapeake’s sale in 2011 of the Fayetteville Shale assets, Robert transitioned to BHP Billiton. He joined New Prospect Company in April 2013 and focuses on maintaining and growing relationships with oil & gas exploration & production customers in the Mid-Continent region of the United States.

Robert serves as a co-liaison to Little Rock's sister city Caxias do Sul, Brazil.