November 23, 2011 Edition

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State leaders applaud efforts

John Bland

"The Landscape is Changing" was the theme of this year's annual meeting of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce held at Williams Baptist College. Guest speakers were Lt. Governor Mark Darr and Secretary of State Mark Martin.

Mike Montgomery, Chamber board chairman, served as master of ceremonies for the evening. Montgomery noted that the landscape is changing with the spirit of cooperation among the cities and the county. "We took a very small piece of history and turned it into a brick and mortar project," he said, referring to the creation of The Beatles sculpture to commemorate the rock-and-roll group's brief stopover in Walnut Ridge in 1964.

"I want to leave you with an idea," Montgomery said. "The only difference in who we are and what we want to be is what we do."

L.J. Bryant, director of economic development for the Chamber, narrated a PowerPoint presentation that recapped highlights of 2011, including the development and growth of peanut farming in the area, hosting a visit by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, many ribbon cuttings, a visit by "Welcome to Arkansas," the Business Expo, an honor graduates reception, the Beatles on the Ridge event and the Iron Mountain Festival. The Chamber's hiring of Bryant also took place this year.

In his speech, Lt. Governor Darr said, "The thing I like about this area is that you do have a vision ... Rural America has come under attack. The Bible says, without a vision, the people will perish. I want to applaud you for the work you've done."

"We have to build a pro-business environment in Arkansas," Darr said.

"If you're willing to do the work, the landscape will change," he concluded.

Sec. of State Martin said during his 11 months in office, a list of processes and procedures have been put in place, and 80 percent of the pre-existing personnel were trained and remained on staff.

Martin has also worked to streamline his budget by reducing the number of vehicles from 30 to 20 and reducing the number of staff from 211 to as low as 145. His staff will grow to 160 to 170 with the coming election year. He noted that his office expenditures thus far are $3.2 million under budget.

Martin grew up in the Delta and graduated from Hughes High School. "I love to have my spirit lifted and see that my home area still has that unbreakable spirit," he said.

Awards presented, board recognized

Annual awards announced and presented during the banquet were as follows: Community Service Award, Debbie Smith; Business of the Year, Downums Waste Services, Inc.; Industry of the Year, Contech Construction Products; and Man and Woman of the Year, Charles and Jackie Snapp.

Montgomery recognized retiring Chamber board members and announced those who are newly elected to the board. Going off the board are Lorra Whitmire, John Howard and Michael "Button" Wallin. New board members are Fran Cavenaugh, Tammy Franks and Anthony Pinkston.

Kari Shanks, the incoming Chamber board chairman, said she plans to continue Montgomery's economic gardening approach to grow existing business and industry, as well as new business and industry. Another of her goals is to re-energize Chamber committees.

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