July 06, 2011 Edition

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Chamber hires Bryant
for new position

Lawrence County Chamber Board President Mike Montgomery (left) helps L.J. Bryant, new economic development associate for the Chamber, get more familiar with the area on his first day on the job Tuesday.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt
Gretchen Hunt

L.J. Bryant said when he was originally approached about the possibility of filling the new economic development position at the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, the fit seemed right.

His name will be remembered mostly in connection with his successful bid for the Democratic nomination for commissioner of state lands in 2010. After winning a runoff in the Primary Election, he was narrowly defeated by his Republican opponent in the General Election.

Bryant is a member of Newport United Methodist Church, where he is a former lay leader, and is a graduate of Hendrix College with a bachelor's degree in political science.

Working with a Chamber will not be new to him, as he is a former board member of the Newport Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Depot Days Committee, as well as former president of the Jackson County Tourism Council.

He was named as one of "Twenty in Their Twenties" by Arkansas Business in 2010 and named as one of "Twenty to Watch" in 2011 by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Currently completing his master's degree in workforce development through the University of Arkansas, he also serves as vice president of C&B Tax Inc., which operates as Jackson Hewitt Tax Service in Jonesboro.

Bryant works with his mother, Cheri Bryant, who serves as president of the tax company. He will continue his role in that company, while taking on the part-time position in Lawrence County.

"I'm really excited," Bryant said Tuesday, his first day on the job. "I've had a lot of friends up here for a long time."

Included in those friends are Walnut Ridge Mayor Don House and County Judge Dale Freeman, who approached Bryant about the position in January.

"They let me know it was going to be available, so when they started taking applications I applied and was happy to be selected," he said.

Now, Bryant said he will spend the first part of his tenure on a "listening tour." He plans to attend meetings, visit with elected officials and meet with the president of Williams Baptist College, school superintendents, business leaders and plant managers.

"I just want to listen to them first and foremost," he said. "I want to learn how things came to be and see what all is already going on. I want to help build on what is already going on instead of starting from scratch."

Providing assistance to existing businesses is a priority, according to both Bryant and Mike Montgomery, chair of the Chamber Board.

"There is a lot of focus on chasing down new businesses, but we also need to focus on the businesses already here," Bryant said. Montgomery said there are a lot of long-term projects in the works.

"In the meantime, we are taking an economic gardening approach where we try to strengthen our local businesses and help them market themselves and try to increase employment from within."

Montgomery said he believes adding the new economic development position and filling it with Bryant is a step in the right direction.

"It's a step toward job creation," he said. "We need to increase our tax base so we can offer more services to our residents and that will make it a more appealing place to live."

Montgomery said he hopes everyone will take the opportunity to get to know Bryant.

"He is very accessible," Montgomery said. "He is available to help. There are some projects for him to tackle, but we want to hear other ideas. We need a more consolidated economic development effort, and this will help us do that."

Bryant said he will not have set office hours, but will be available by phone or e-mail at any time.

"It's hard to say I'll be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays and then realize I need to be over here on a Wednesday, so I'm just going to be flexible," he said. "I have an office here at the Chamber, but if I do my job well, I won't be in it very much."

He can be reached by phone at the Chamber office at 886-3232 or by cell at 501-412-3930. He can also be contacted through e-mail at lawcoecondev@gmail.com.

Bryant said he is ready to get started.

"Certainly there are challenges here, but we are in a better position than a lot of other counties" Bryant said. "We have a lot of strengths."

Montgomery agreed saying, "A lot of opportunities exist right now. We've just got to reach out and pull them in."

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