November 16, 2016 Edition

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Prior to the start of the Chamber banquet, Governor Asa Hutchinson (center) visits with Jerry Haynes (left) and Terry Belcher, superintendent of the Lawrence County School District. Haynes, math teacher and club sponsor at WRHS, was named winner of the Chamber's Community Service Award.

Governor stresses
economic growth

John Bland

With Gov. Asa Hutchinson as the speaker, good food and special recognitions, this year's Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce banquet drew extra excitement and a crowd of some 150 people. The annual banquet was held Thursday at noon in The Studio in downtown Walnut Ridge.

Building Bridges - for economic growth and a community united was the event theme. County Judge Dale Freeman was posthumously awarded the first Building Bridges Award.

Other award recipients included: Man of the Year, Walnut Ridge Fire Chief Frank Owens; Woman of the Year, Children's Shelter Administrator Tonjia Miles; Community Service Award, Jerry Haynes; Business of the Year, Mel Fender's Chicken Shack Produce; Agriculture Business of the Year, Jason and Beth Gosha's J&B Imboden Feed; and the 2016 Lawrence County Farm Family of the Year, Rickey and Virginia Goff and family of Smithville.

Announced as the new Chamber board members were Angela Flippo of Flowers Nursery and Gifts and Brent Hufstedler of Aaron's.

Incoming Chamber Chair Gretchen Hunt recognized outgoing board members Anthony Pinkston, John Thomison and Fran Cavenaugh with certificates of appreciation.

Hunt also presented Chair Dina Rose with a plaque for her service and made closing remarks.

Governor praises
county efforts

"It's exciting to see the growth, energy and enthusiasm in the county," said Gov. Hutchinson, the 46th governor of Arkansas, who was introduced by Dina Rose, Chamber board chair.

The Governor said he would not be commenting on the national election, held two days earlier but to say that it was certainly a surprise. "Arkansas was in a 'yes' mood as all amendments passed," he added.

The Governor recognized Sen. Blake Johnson, who was in attendance, and said he looks forward to working with Fran Cavenaugh, state representative-elect for District 60. Cavenaugh, who is volunteer executive director of the Chamber, was instrumental in getting the governor to the banquet. However, she was in Little Rock for a meeting for state representatives and could not attend the banquet.

Gov. Hutchinson outlined his day on Thursday, which began in North Little Rock that morning when he met with an independent film company of Arkansans engaged in the film industry. He then attended the dedication of the renovated Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock before coming to Lawrence County for the "highlight" of his day, the Chamber banquet. Afterwards, he was flying on to Bentonville for the International Mountain Bicycling Association World Summit.

He congratulated Mayor Charles Snapp and Sen. Blake Johnson and other local leaders for their successful efforts to keep the National Guard Armory open in Walnut Ridge. While five or six armories targeted for closing did close, a successful case was made in keeping the Walnut Ridge armory open.

Governor promoting
economic growth

The Governor noted other positive economic development in the county, including: the four-lane expansion of U.S. Hwy. 67 to Hoxie and Walnut Ridge, $1.5 million in airport grants, the $45 million investment of American Silica near Black Rock and an unemployment rate that has been reduced from 6.4 percent to 4.1 percent.

Hutchinson listed six ways to promote economic growth, noting that a balanced economy, with a mix of agriculture and manufacturing, is important.

He noted that tourism is the second leading industry in Arkansas with agriculture being first. He praised Walnut Ridge leaders for the creative way they have tied in the Beatles landing at the airport with local tourism.

He said he has made trips to China to promote and market Arkansas, and "they've heard of the Beatles in China."

"You need a governor that markets the state of Arkansas for commerce and tourism," he said.

He listed education as another important component to economic development. "One million jobs (in computer coding) nationwide will go unfilled," he said. These are $60,000 salaried jobs.

He has mandated that computer coding be taught in Arkansas schools. "Arkansas is leading the nation in comprehensive computer science programs," he said. "I'm encouraging you in Lawrence County - let's push that initiative in Lawrence County."

He listed highways, quality of life and partnering with county and city leadership as other important aspects of economic development.

Following the governor's speech, master of ceremonies Brett Cooper, on behalf of Mayor Snapp, presented Hutchinson with a hand-painted Beatles tie.

Before leaving, Gov. Hutchinson took time to have his photo made with the Abbey Road sculpture at Beatles Park and with other Beatles backdrops.

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