Sen. Blanche Lincoln made a stop in Melbourne Aug. 10 to rally local business and political leaders to find a replacement for Boeing. Lincoln spoke to the gathering Aug. 10 at the former Boeing plant.
Lincoln spoke as part of the 21st Century Vision Regional Economic Development Summit. North Arkansas Regional Economic Development put together the networking event along with the Central Ozarks Task Force for Economic Development.
"I've seen this plant with 400 employees and I've seen it down to 103," Lincoln said. She said she visited the plant while it was still under the control of McDonnell-Douglas in 1993. She said it helped make her a believer in what residents are trying to do with the plant.
"The employees strived to make it the best place it could possibly be," Lincoln said. "I'm going to do whatever I can to sell that dedication."
Lincoln told those gathered to make of a list of companies and people who they thought would be interested in the plant. She said she has already told people about the plant and has been doing her part. "You all are the heart of the community," she said. "Let's not leave any stone unturned."
She said the community is reflected well through the education facilities available within it. "They (prospective companies) will see the new high school and see you're dedicated to education," Lincoln said. "You have an investment in the children."
Lincoln said globalization will be important to the future of Arkansas' economy. Examples of this are companies like Toyota, which is based in Japan, opening facilities in Arkansas. "The Japanese found a consumer base in the U.S. so it makes some sense for them to move here," she said.
Lincoln said healthcare costs are one thing that is harming potential business. She said she'd like to give small businesses and the self employed similar health coverage to what government officials get. She said such a system could potentially cut the number of people in need of healthcare down by half through aiding businesses that usually cannot afford to pay for workers' health coverage.
Lincoln said the most convenient way to get healthcare to people is through corporate industry. She said because of the high volume of people many corporations employ they are able to provide better health coverage to more people.
Lincoln said a time will come when health care is mostly the job of the government and less the responsibility of business and industry.
Lincoln said high-speed Internet connection is necessary in the modern economy. She said providing such a service can be a problem in rural communities since it is not likely to be used in the same volume as larger cities.
Lincoln said she is working to free up tax dollars to use in a practical way to aid rural communities which need high-speed Internet.
Lincoln said she withheld her opinion on a bill that would put tax dollars towards providing broadband Internet to rural areas. She said she is not sure it is as fleshed out as it needs to be.
"I just want to tell you about the commitment and effort of the people in this room," Lincoln said. "It's reflected in the community and the work you do with pride. I've got to say I've kept this place in my heart."
Melbourne Mayor Mike Cone, Task Force Chairman Randy Zook, NCARED Chairman Steven Sanders Jr. and Larry Walthers, director of Arkansas Economic Development, also spoke at the event.
The Boeing facility in Melbourne closed April 13. The plant had opened its doors in Melbourne as Douglas Aircraft in the 1960s.
Boeing officials announced its closing in February. Boeing said the plant was unnecessary to Boeing's current manufacturing.
The Melbourne facility served as a repair station for Boeing doors and flight control. It provided maintenance, repair and overhaul services.
Boeing transferred the remaining work from the Melbourne facility to its operations in Salt Lake City.
Cone formed the Task Force for Economic Development in February to actively seek a replacement for Boeing. The task force works at the local level and is made up of residents of the community.
Boeing transferred ownership of the plant to the city of Melbourne on April 28.
NCARED works to promote and develop economic growth in Baxter, Fulton, Izard, Marion, Searcy, Stone and Van Buren counties.