The Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce (HRCC) returned to Harrison City Council committee meetings Thursday night and presented for the second time a proposed $65,000 contract to fund the chamber’s economic development efforts.
HRCC president and CEO Bob Largent and Gwen Hoffmann, chamber board chairman, made a presentation before the Finance Committee last month, but the proposal was not forwarded to the council's regular May meeting agenda.
Returning Thursday, Largent furthered explained the need of the city’s investment to impact the area’s prosperity. He said this is a new chamber with a new focus and taking a new direction.
Previously announced highway improvements are a driving force for economic development. Harrison has become a transportation hub, he said.
Without giving details, Largent said some active economic development prospects at present include a $2 million terminal expansion with 50 new jobs; a $1 million food franchise with 20 new jobs; a $1 million health care office with physicians; and five new employees and a $15 million manufacturing facility with 10 additional jobs.
Largent pointed to the city of Clarksville which has entered a $150,000 annual contract with its chamber of commerce.
Mike Preston, Arkansas Economic Development Commission executive director, made a recorded video appeal to the Harrison City Council asking it to support the chamber’s efforts.
Members of the chamber’s board of directors were in attendance, some addressed council members asking for their support for the benefit of the Harrison community.
Finance Committee chairman Mitch Magness said he received a message from Pat Reed, retired CEO of FedEx Freight, endorsing the chamber’s efforts. It was read aloud in its entirety by Finance director Luke Feighert.
Council member Bill Boswell asked, what makes up the $65,000 figure and why?
The costs fall into three categories, Largent said. They are education, direct development in the city and operations.
In the operations arena the chamber has to have a presentation monitor and speakers in order to communicate with economic development teams throughout the state. There is a need for a new highway sign that shows the cooperation between the city, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the chamber, to promote Harrison and those organizations. The current unlit sign on US Highway 62-65 is hard to read, and the logo on it is five years old.
He said the office is operating with three broken copiers and printers. The chamber wants to enter into a five-year lease for a printer and a copier with a maintenance agreement. The chamber is building a website specifically designed for economic development focusing on site selection organizations and prospective businesses. With that is an economic development software package that will help build a data base designed to entice prospective businesses to come here, he added.
In the education arena, funds would make it possible for those locally who are engaged in economic development to attend conferences at Arkansas State University, the Community Development Franchise Opportunity Conference in Tampa, the International Economic Development Commission and state economic development conferences.
Locally, there will be quarterly elected leader economic development meetings and an annual economic development summit in the fall, he concluded.
Magness observed that something has to be done to foster economic development in the area, but confessed he didn’t know what that something should be. Apparently none of the committee members did, either, and the proposal was given the support needed to pass it to the full council for deliberation.