Monday, July 08, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Going wet: It adds up

The University of Arkansas report on making Sherwood and Jacksonville “wet” are mathematically flawed, but the conclusion is valid — both cities would benefit financially by being completely wet.

First, the background:

• Gray Township, a political entity that no longer exists but covers about 50 percent of what is now Sherwood and close to 90 percent of Jacksonville, voted in 1954 and 1956 to make the area dry, meaning no alcohol sales except under certain circumstances, like jumping through a lengthy process of hoops to be a private club.

•  Because Gray Township no longer officially exists, there has been no mechanism to change that vote. But the state legislature approved a new law that helped set the boundaries of four dry Pulaski County townships and to allow residents to vote on the issue later this year.

The study flaws:

• The studies, produced by the university’s Center for Business and Economic Research, said that 50 percent of Sherwood is dry and losing about $7 million a year in sales because full-service restaurants can’t open in the dry areas. It then says that Jacksonville is 90 percent dry and is also losing money, but only $600,000 a year — say what?

Jacksonville and Sherwood are close in population (29,000 to 30,000 residents respectively) and much more of Jacksonville falls into the dry category, but Sherwood is losing 10 times the money? The numbers simply don’t add up, multiple up or make any mathematical sense.

But the concept is true; the cities are losing money because many national, full-service restaurants will not locate in the area because most of the land available for development is in the dry areas.

Jacksonville has only one major full-service chain restaurant and that is Chili’s, pulling in about $4 million a year, making it one of the busiest and best in the state. But why doesn’t anyone else open next to Little Rock Air Force Base, which contributes more than $800 million to the local economy?

The “dry” rules, restrictions and regulations are a major factor here.

The study also forgets the indirect or ancillary jobs new restaurants would create. When a Chili’s or Buffalo Wild Wings comes in, there is an instant need for plumbers, electricians and a variety of laborers to build the facility. Not all of those workers are hired locally, but many are. Plus, crews that come in to help need to stay at local hotels, use local eateries and gas up locally.

Once a restaurant opens, like Buffalo Wild Wings, it could employ 100-plus people. Plus, it could be responsible for that much more indirectly — from the drivers delivering the supplies to the chicken farmers providing the product.
Now, what to do:

• Study flaws aside, both cities and their chambers of commerce need to push hard to get enough signatures collected to call for the vote. Both cities need about 4,400 signatures from the affected area. Sherwood has to get it from a much smaller segment than Jacksonville, but both need the vote for the economic impact it will provide—which would actually be less than $7 million a year for Sherwood and much more than $600,000 for Jacksonville.