The Spring River Chamber of Commerce met in their regular monthly meeting May 19 at Words and Afterwords in Hardy.
The guest speaker for the event was Jerry Smith, the director of the Center for Regional and Community Development at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. His program serves as the Delta's "University Center," which is a project of the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Smith spoke to chamber members about the rural development plan that Sharp County is in the process of being implemented.
Chamber President Charlotte Goodwin invited Smith to speak after the successful May 7 meeting at the Sharp County Courthouse where all city councils and mayors were present from Hardy, Ash Flat, Cave City, Sidney, Highland, Cherokee Village and Williford to discuss economic development opportunities for the county as a whole. Goodwin felt that business owners in the area could have alot to contribute in regard to ideas for development.
Smith discussed the key factors that help contribute to the success of any economic development plan. He said funding, organization, a plan and critical mass are very important to the plan. He said a mixture of service and attracting jobs are also very important to development.
Smith said that by starting at the county level with the plan, elected officials are the first to learn of plans, rather than last, as is the case most times when citizen's bring things before a council.
Smith said the $100,000 cost for the consulting service for this economic development plan was paid by Rural Electric Cooperative in the state like North Arkansas Electric Cooperative and would eventually envelope nine counties, three at a time.
In order for the plan to work, Smith said the steering committees must work collectively to present a plan that makes sense for citizen's and businesses to "buy into."
Both Poinsett and Chico Counties have taken Sharp County's lead and are also opting for a county wide economic plan.
Following Smith's presentation, Greg Bess, Words and Afterwords owner and steering committee president, addressed the council.
Bess reiterated the importance of unity in participation between all of the cities in Sharp County becoming involved in the economic development plan. In regard to things that are already in place to assist with development, Bess said that a partnership with Encare is helping develop a brand called "Naturally Ozark." The brand will be unique in that everything bearing this brand will have to be made in the Ozarks.
Bess also said that each city had unique factors to contribute to the overall plan. Bess said that the Spring River, the available workforce and retired persons' knowledge base in the area are great assets.
Bess also recognized the area's radio and newspaper media as being strong assets. He said that people are starting to move to areas like Sharp County from larger cities and this is an important consideration to attract new growth.
The newest members of the Spring River Chamber of Commerce is Spring River Survival Guide, the magazine responsible for publishing the new Spring River Chamber of Commerce guide which will be out by the end of the month.
Murphy Williams was announced as the 2009 Spring River Chamber of Commerce scholarship winner. Williams is a 2009 Highland High School graduate and the daughter of Dennis and Christy Williams.
Nelson Gatewood with the Highland Veterans of Foreign Wars reminded the chamber of his ongoing effort to sell bricks for the veterans memorial located at Ash Flat. He also invited everyone to the Memorial Day ceremony to be held May 25 at 11 a.m. Gatewood said VFW members would be serving barbecue plates for $5 at the event and Glory Road would perform. He said carry-outs would also be available.
In closing, Goodwin offered praise to Sharp County Judge Larry Brown for his efforts to bring the cities of Sharp County together. She said, "Judge Brown is the glue that binds the county together." She said that to make the economic development plan work, support from other cities is needed too. Goodwin said instead of being upset when a new business comes into one city as opposed to another, officials should embrace that because the whole county benefits from new businesses. She said, "Support any new businesses."