Tuesday, January 27, 2015

TOP STORY >> Chamber dinner looks ahead

Leader staff writer

Volunteerism and having a strong foundation for future economic growth were themes of the 54th annual Cabot Chamber of Commerce membership banquet held Friday at Freshman Academy.

Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce president Mark Young was the guest speaker. He explained that, for a community to be successful in recruiting new businesses and industry, it has to have the workforce, leadership, infrastructure and existing business.

Young is chairman of the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development Coalition. He has been the Jonesboro Chamber president since 2006. Before that, Young served as director of the Delta Center for Economic Development at Arkansas State University from 2000 to 2006.

Previously, he was director of the Cross County Business Development Center in Wynne. He was also director of the East Arkansas Community College Business Development Center in Forrest City.

Young has a bachelor’s degree in journalism with an emphasis in public relations from ASU.

“Communities that are successful invest in their workforce. Baby boomers are going to retire and there is going to be a tremendous need for skilled workers,” Young said.

He believes successful communities will be those that prepare for a workforce they need today and in the future. Young suggested looking for ways to partner with universities in the region.

“Try to determine what jobs are needed in the next five to 15 years. Have programs that allow you to work toward that. I think it critical to have great K-12 programs,” he said.

Young said communities need quality infrastructure to support growth. He said that includes highways, high-speed Internet access, water and sewer capacity and qualities.

Another key for successful communities is congenial leadership by elected officials and businesses. Competition is put aside when it is time to do something right for the community, Young noted.

“If we aren’t doing everything to enhance those existing businesses and industries, we aren’t doing a good job for them. I know the Cabot chamber is dedicated to doing that,” he said.

Young said, when a local business adds one or five jobs, the overall impact to the community, families and employees is phenomenal.

“When a new business comes to town, it is on the front page. Everybody is excited, and it’s extremely important. Growing communities need more businesses, jobs, tax base, a chamber of commerce geared for that type of environment for your business to be successful,” Young said.

He said existing companies are the key ingredient to the continued growth of the community. Tell prospective companies what it is like to do business, work and live in Cabot, Young suggested.

Outgoing Cabot Chamber president Mark Stocks also spoke. He said, “What separates a good community from a mediocre community is having people that care about the community and giving back. That is why Cabot is good. We have volunteers in the civic clubs, churches and schools. None would operate efficiently without the volunteers.”

Stocks said the chamber cannot function to its fullest with events like Cabotfest or even ribbon cuttings without people who care. The chamber can only do so much with its budget and needs volunteers, he noted.

Vikki Parker was recognized as the chamber’s Volunteer of Year, her second time for the award. She was previously honored in 2006.

Parker founded the Cabot Crisis Pregnancy Center in 2001. It is known today as the Options Pregnancy Center. Parker has served on the chamber’s board of directors and ambassador committee for three years. She is also a member of the Cabot Kiwanis Club and Grace Fellowship Church.

“Vikki is passionate about people in her community. She served on numerous boards and committees. She is one of the first people you see when help is needed,” a nomination letter reads.

The new chamber president, David Butler, spoke, too. He said one of the main goals for 2015 is to add value to the chamber membership.

The chamber will hold a luncheon meeting in February about using social media for business.

Butler then acknowledged Cabot American Legion Post 71 for helping out the past six years at the spring and fall cleanups, sprucing up the Veterans Cemetery and working many hours for Toys for Tots.