March 14, 2007 Edition

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Education, highways
are link to our future

Jill Clogston (from left) and Harrell Austin of the Northeast Arkansas Educational cooperative visit with Kim Moseley of Jonesboro and Mosley's father, Jim Wooten of Beebe, who was guest speaker at the quarterly meeting of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce held Thursday. Wooten spoke on Beebe's recovery effort and subsequent economic successes following a 1999 tornado.
TD Photo ~ John Bland

John Bland

A 1999 tornado that devastated the central Arkansas town of Beebe was the start of great things for that community, said Jim Wooten, Exxon distributor and community development leader, who also assists with the high school football team and is a former state trooper.

"That was the beginning; we rallied together as a community," Wooten told attendees at the quarterly lunch meeting of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce held Thursday at the Northeast Arkansas Educational Cooperative.

"In 2000, we started holding community meetings. We talked about Beebe's strengths and weaknesses and developed a strategic plan of action," Wooten said. "When you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can build on your strengths."

The community also hired an economic development coordinator and began an outreach program to its current businesses and industries. Through this outreach, Beebe was able to retain two industries that might otherwise have left the community.

"I'd rather have 10 to 15 small industries than one big one," Wooten said.

"The process (of rallying) begins when you engage your community," said Wooten, stressing the importance of involving as many people as possible.

Highways, education are top assets

Two major assets Wooten sees for Lawrence County is the highway structure and education. He noted the convergence of U.S. Highways 67, 63 and 412 in the Walnut Ridge and Hoxie area as a major asset. He said Hwy. 67 saw an 18 percent increase in use when the four-lanes were extended north to Newport.

"You need to embrace your public education. The educational cooperative is the salvation of education in Arkansas," Wooten said, stressing the need to support local school, colleges, educational cooperatives and existing industries.

To succeed, communities need three things, said Wooten. These are:

"The Chamber should continually seek feedback from the communities you serve," Wooten said. He encouraged holding leadership courses for young professionals.

"Beebe is a bedroom community to Little Rock and a place for people looking for a good quality of life. Think what you can do (here) if you make an effort to be a good bedroom community," he said.

"You have to make that effort," he stressed, adding that Arkansans have too long downgraded themselves.

During their planning, Beebe reevaluated its zoning and publicized plans for the town.

"Our stimulus was the tornado. When you're down, there's not but one way to go ~ up." As a former state trooper, Wooten coordinated the recovery effort within two hours of the tornado. "Within three months, you couldn't tell we'd had a tornado," he added.

"Your schools and your highways are the link to your future, but above all, your people are your greatest asset," Wooten concluded.

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