Tuesday, June 29, 2010

TOP STORY>>‘LRAFB ties us together’

Leader staff writer

The mayors of Jacksonville and Cabot agreed Tuesday that Little Rock Air Force Base ties their communities together.

Both Mayor Eddie Joe Williams of Cabot and Mayor Gary Fletcher of Jacksonville had a chance to speak at the first joint chamber luncheon between the two cities.

Jacksonville chamber president Jason Wilkinson, who emceed the noontime event at the Jacksonville Community Center, called the gathering “something great” and said it would become an annual event.

The mayors had 10 minutes to speak about their communities and the ties the cities have to each other. The buzzing of a borrowed score clock indicated that both mayors went over their time limit, but no one complained.

Williams spoke first, calling his four years as mayor among the best times of his life. “Jacksonville and Cabot are two of the greatest cities in Arkansas,” Williams said. “And they are made up of great people.”

“Clearly it is Little Rock Air Force Base that ties us together. Base support is a priority,” he said.

The mayor said the base pumps in close to $600 million into the local economy. He said Cabot’s share of that is about $240 million. “That’s about $20 million a month. What community could afford to lose that? We certainly can’t,” he said.

The mayor added though that the base is more than just money to the area—that it is about people. “And we must not forget our responsibility to them.”

Williams recalled a low point as mayor when someone painted racial slurs on a garage. “This was the home of a mother with a special-needs child whose husband was deployed. We repainted the garage, but she was scared. I gave her my card and told her she could call night or day.”

Later, Williams found out it was the simple act of giving the woman his card that helped her make it through that troubling time.

Williams said traffic to and from Little Rock also ties the communities together. “We’ve all experienced the bottlenecks on Hwy. 67/167,” he said, adding the state Highway Department is working on expanding the highway,” he said.

“But it does take time. However, since we work as a team and get along, it does make the projects move along better,” Williams said.

Jacksonville’s mayor piggybacked on the military connection, thanking everyone in the room for their part in bringing the Abilene Trophy to Little Rock Air Force Base.

The trophy is given to the Air Mobility Command base with the best community support. “We all worked to bring that trophy here and now our job is to figure out how to keep it here.”

Fletcher, who said Wednesday marks his one-year anniversary as mayor, reflected back on his first year.

“When I was first elected, I thought I would use Conway Mayor Tad Townsell as my mentor, but the Lord had different ideas.

He sent Eddie Joe to me,” Fletcher said, “and he’s been a great mentor.”

Fletcher said among the accomplishments during his first years were the formation of a landlord’s association, the demolition of Manor House apartments, a new website and the introduction of CodeRed, which he initiated after Cabot’s success with the computerized telephone-warning system.

Fletcher said projects getting underway include the new 45,000-square-foot Joint Education Center “that will benefit all our citizens,” he said. “There’s also the $3 million police and fire training facility that not only our police and firefighters will use, but so will our neighbors.”

Fletcher said growth through new businesses and expansion is important to Jacksonville. He said that even though Jacksonville restaurants have brought in $37.5 million, that there was still room for more.

The first three months of the Memphis Flea Market in the old Walmart building have brought in 28,000 visitors to the city.

“And once the studies are complete, I’m sure they will show that Jacksonville has the best land for the new state fairgrounds.

That won’t be just a Jacksonville thing, but an area thing.”

Fletcher added that his advice is not to invest in the stock market, but in the local communities.