Friday, May 19, 2017

TOP STORY >> Governor launches economic program

Leader staff writer

In the final moments of Kick Start Lonoke’s celebration and action-plan presentation, Adam Starks handed Gov. Asa Hutchinson a goldfish.

As many as 200 people, who had gathered in front of the train depot on Front Street, which serves as the headquarters for the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce, applauded as Hutchinson accepted the gift from Starks, a Kick Start Lonoke organizer.

The fish represented Lonoke’s place on the national stage as one of the country’s largest baitfish production centers. Pool Fisheries of Lonoke supplied the goldfish for the event and is in fact the world’s largest goldfish producer.

Starks said, Kick Start identified the baitfish industry as one of Lonoke’s strengths that have been overlooked. The fish symbolizes the town’s economic potential and its hope for future achievements.

“I love it,” Hutchinson said as he accepted the fishbowl. Then he added, “Thank you and Kick Start Lonoke.”

He was referring to the nine-month effort of Lonoke residents, the University of Central Arkansas’ Center for Community and Economic Development, the city of Lonoke and the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce, which had called press conference to unveil their strategic action plan for growth and development for the next five years.

The event was held Thursday morning and was open to the public.

Lonoke chamber director Hannah Harris said, “I was very pleased with the turnout. The chamber is Kick Start Lonoke. We are working with the city for the betterment of Lonoke.”

On a personal note, she said, “I love my city, and I want to see it grow. Not just for me but for my grandchildren.”


Hutchinson described himself as an economic-development friendly governor, touting the recent Remington Arms Company expansion, an additional 84 new jobs, as good for Lonoke. He also mentioned last week’s announcement of 800 new jobs and a $410 million dollar investment in Forest City by Chinese company Shandong Ruyi Technology Group. Although the textile manufacturer will be located nearly 70 miles to the east of Lonoke, Hutchinson said, it fosters related business growth throughout the area.

The governor complimented the Kick Start group’s success.


Starks opened the event, by saying, “It is our pleasure to have you here today to celebrate months of hard work.”

He was referring to the 145-year-old city’s collaboration with UCA and the UA Cooperative Extension Office Breakthrough Solutions Pro-gram that began nearly a year ago.

In June 2016, UCA announced it had chosen Lonoke as its 2016 Community Development Institute Com-munity and would work with community and city leaders to help improve its economic climate.

The program didn’t cost Lonoke a cent.

About two months into the program, Lonoke underwent a thorough assessment and eventually six committees called Action Teams were formed. These include: beautification and recreation, branding and marketing, downtown and retail development, housing and real estate, infrastructure, and jobs and education.

It also outlined a five-year plan.

Kick Start organizer Ryan Biles said, Kick Start “volunteers did not wait until the conclusion of the planning process to being working. They have already been hard at work.”

And already Kick Start has a few feathers in its cap, including partnering with the city in writing grants for lighting on the city’s walking trail and its expansion, and the design of a new city logo by Thrive of Helena. While the city has the money for the trail, the logo is still in the works.

Also, Lonoke High School’s Environmental and Spatial Technology Lab mapped the city’s sidewalks.


Starks said, “It was an intense nine months…It’s been great to see the overall involvement.”

About 10 percent of the city’s total population, estimated at about 4,260, has been engaged in the process.

Biles, who spoke last at the event, said approximately 400 residents have attended about 40 meetings since last August, and donated their time and talent to the cause.

In a sense, it’s the community’s time to thrive, and, Starks said, “People are excited, they’re engaged and coming to the meetings. I think it’s the sign of a healthy community.”

Biles said, “Once we were a community seeking a clear path forward, we are now a town with a vision.”

Starks said, “This is not an ending but just a beginning. The work’s just now getting started.”

Members will continue on the path laid out in Kick Start’s plan and the various groups will continue to meet on a regular basis.

Within a few months, Starks said, “We’ll have a second unveiling.”


Mark Peterson, a UA Community Development professor who worked closely with the Lonoke group, said, “We’re excited about what you’re doing.”

In addition, Peterson said, “The museum is a real gem,” and they worked with Lonoke County Museum director Sherryl Miller on a plan to build on the foundation they have already have in place.

Then Peterson introduced Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee.

“We’re delighted to have partnered with UCA,” McGee said.

Amy Whitehead, UCA Community Development Institute director, told the crowd, “Lonoke is most impressive,” and its residents have been involved and supportive.


“It’s an exciting day in Lonoke,” said Lonoke Circuit Judge Sandy Huckabee.

Many in the audience echoed Huckabee’s sentiment.

Lonoke resident Vivian Brown, who owns alterations shop Sew What, said because of the Kick Start efforts, “Our future is brighter.”

Debbie Shelton, who served on Kick Start’s Jobs and Education committee and is director of Lonoke-Prairie Counties Adult Education, said about her involvement with Kick Start, “I’m working to improve the community.”

Besides she has grandchildren who are growing up in Lonoke, and she wants them to have a future in Lonoke.

Landon Pool, part of the family that owns Pool Fisheries, hung around after delivering the goldfish, saying he wanted to hear Hutchinson speak.

The he added, “I’m thankful UCA chose us.”