The Harrison City Council finance committee heard a second presentation from the President & CEO of the Harrison Regional Chamber of Commerce Bob Largent regarding a funding request for $65,000 for the coming year of 2019-20 last night. In the past Harrison has provided the chamber with only $5,000 a year.

                Largent, who began his position in March, is adamant that the chamber is going in “a new direction” than it has in the past and is focusing solely on economic development.

                As businesses consider moving to Arkansas they meet with state officials in Little Rock who present them with a map of all the counties in Arkansas with information regarding their population, workforce, quality of life, etc. Boone County is one of five counties that are blank because that type of information has never been provided to the state. Largent promises that will change this year.

                The chamber recently purchased BRE (Business Retention & Expansion) software that collects data from all local industries to be provided to state officials who are attracting new industry to Arkansas. Largent also says that in the last nine months the chamber has identified a variety of businesses that are looking to expand in Boone County and will result in almost 100 additional jobs.

                Largent laid a few specifics as too what the money would be used for including equipment for operations and presentations to perspective businesses, a new chamber website that will be solely devoted to economic development, educational conferences in Little Rock, Tampa, and other places as well as quarterly meetings with elected state officials. The chamber also plans to host an economic development summit by invitation only for perspective industries later this year.

                The finance committee members were quick to say that they are in strong support of economic development but are leery of giving such a large funding increase to the chamber considering it’s past economic development performance. Councilman Mitch Magness said the problem with justifying this type of spending to the public is they haven’t seen much benefit from the chamber in the past, regarding economic development. Councilman Bill Boswell asked if the city could afford such an increase right now considering the rising cost of the city’s health insurance (which goes up 10% in July) and the proposal to provide longevity pay to other city departments (Right now it is only provided to the Police and Fire Departments) which will be voted on at the next full city council meeting in two weeks and is expected to pass.

Members of the public voiced their opinions in both support and opposition to the request. Those in favor include Pat Reed, former Chief Operation Officer of Fedex, who said via email that he has been in Boone County for 22 years and involved with the “Believe Boone County Initiative” for approximately two years. He said he is “confident in Bob (Largent) and his team has a great plan,” and that Harrison, “cannot afford to let this opportunity slip away.”

                Mayor Jerry Jackson said he has worked with Largent on several projects and has confidence in his ability. Mayor Jackson said he will always be willing to work with the chamber on economic development.

                Dr. Stuart Pratt, Superintendent of the Harrison School District, said, “for the school system to grow the city has to grow,” and providing students with a viable community for careers after they graduate is very important.

                All committee members said they are in strong agreeance with the chamber that we need to invest in economic development, but they are unsure if this is the right way to do it. The matter was moved on to full council for discussion and a potential vote at on June 27, 2019.

Story by Coleman Taylor