Cross County Chamber of Commerce looks to acquire building

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

WYNNE, AR (KAIT) - Officials with the Cross County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation told Region 8 News Tuesday it plans to reacquire the Bill Thomas building in Wynne. According to Aaron Stewart, Executive Director, the chamber virtually gave the building away years ago as it tried to obtain a C-3 status. C-3 statuses granted to non-profit, charitable organizations. Chamber of commerce organizations are considered C-6, which gives fewer restrictions on how they can operate. The chamber now wants to take back the building and collect money from leases paid to the landlord.

"We want to make sure that this building is here for a long time to come and can meet community needs, community meetings and to serve for economic and community development programs," said Stewart.

Stewart said debt on the building is $1.2 million. He said the chamber plans to acquire the building, pay the debt and use the building to raise money for future economic development programs.

"What we want to do is make sure we diversify our economy because not everybody is going to be a farmer. Not everybody will work on a farm, so for those people we want to create job opportunities so those people and their families can live here in Cross County and the Cross County area," said Stewart.

Stewart said he believes voters of Cross County will approve a 1-cent sales tax increase in September. He said voters approve of the measure, and then the additional revenue generated would be used to pay off the debt earlier. A similar measure failed earlier this year.

"The tax is only going to last for 3 years, so what we want is when the tax sunsets automatically for this building to be debt free, so that it will be here to provide educational and economic development opportunities for the people of Cross County in this region," said Stewart.

According to Stewart, agriculture drives the economy of Cross County just as it does in other areas in the Mississippi River Delta. His plan is to use location to bring in different industries and parts suppliers.

"This building is so vital, so important to the people of Cross County that we have to take care of it. We want to retire the debt on it first and then after the debt is gone, any net profits that we may get out it can help fund chamber and economic development programs and help supplement what we already have," said

Stewart said he's traveled to some of the state's largest cities and many don't have buildings as nice as the Bill Thomas building in Wynne.

"We bring in prospects here, as people continue to look at Cross County region, when they come here, it gives us a great meeting place to set up for events. It also shows how we can partner with our educational partners here so we can provide workforce training and higher education," said Stewart. "Among small towns, you're right, it's a great facility. It's a leg up as we show off our community pride and show that the people of Cross County are willing and able to put their money where their mouth is."

Arkansas Workforce Center, East Arkansas Community Center and Lenny's Sub Shop are all located within the Bill Thomas building. Each pays a lease to the landlord. The Cross County Chamber of Commerce would like to be the next landlord.

"Land in Memphis is becoming more scarce as more and more firms move in there, companies are now looking a little outside the Memphis region and communities like Earle and Parkin and Wynne and Jonesboro and others that are in the Memphis region. We're going to be able to see more prospects in those regards. I-40, I-55, rail, river are great assets that we all have that we can take part of," said Stewart.

Stewart said he wants to expand upon agriculture, industry and the county's retail sector.

"Obviously in this part of the state, agriculture is king and we don't want to change that. Agriculture is somewhat recession proof because people always have to eat," said Stewart. "When times are good, it's difficult in rural America to recruit new companies. That's why our primary focus is actually business retention and expansion on what we already have."

Addison Shoe Company and Mueller Copper are two of the largest industries in Wynne. Stewart said the county is also a draw to automotive manufacturers.

"Eakas Arkansas recently located here to Cross County. They are a tier one supplier to Toyota and other auto manufacturers," said Stewart.

Stewart said he was proud to be a member of the Cross County Chamber of Commerce, citing the state of the local economy.

"Because agriculture is king, Cross County has been able to weather this economic downturn very well so far," said Stewart. "The leaders of Cross County have done a good job in years past to prepare us to be diversified so when the inevitable downturns occur. That we don't take too hard of a hit anymore than what's necessary."

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