LAWRENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Representatives from towns all over Lawrence County are joining forces.
The Lawrence County Steering Committee hosted a housing forum at Black Rock City Hall on Wednesday.
Chair of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Board Gretchen Hunt said the idea came from the same issue popping up at multiple meetings... housing.
"We put this together," Hunt said. "Following some meetings where we had discussed some ways to implement some of a strategic plan that was put together in the past by our steering committee. And we wanted to find a place where we could have an impact and housing kept rising to the top of our discussions. That it seemed to be something that was holding back a lot of other areas of development."
Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp said they need to work together to move their county forward.
"For years Walnut Ridge and Lawrence County have been stagnant," Snapp said. "Now, with the amount of jobs that have come into the area and the overwhelming growth that we're experiencing. In April, Walnut Ridge's unemployment was 3.1%. We have more growth, more jobs than we have housing for. To get the people to fill the jobs to keep attracting the businesses that are looking, we need investors building spec homes. We need investors building rental properties. And what we're doing now is organizing the county as a whole to focus on the common need in this entire county. We need people and we need them bad."
"Housing is a very important issue," Hunt said. "In our county, it seems to be holding back some other areas of development as we have several industries that have job openings that they're having trouble filling. People who are coming and expressing interest in residing in our county, but unable to find adequate housing."
Representatives throughout the county, elected officials, contractors and industrial representatives were all on hand to exchange ideas.
"All growth seems to feed other growth," Hunt said. "So, if we can get our housing growing then our population can grow. Our retail business can grow. Our sales tax base can grow, and our industries can grow."
"People will drive in for jobs to certain areas," Snapp said. "But at some point, they want to live in an area and if you don't have the housing for the people to live. You don't need as many gas stations. You don't need the retail outlets. You don't need as many restaurants. And we have these restaurants, we have the convenience stores, the retail outlets that are looking to come to Walnut Ridge. We even have industrial prospects that are on hold for development because we don't have any place for people to live. You cannot hardly find a rental property in town or a house to buy. And that's what we're reaching out to. We have a group of industry reps explaining the job situation. We have the USDA Director in here for the area talking about some housing assistance programs. But we also have investors and developers and we're trying to get everybody together with this meeting today and rally the county as one united effort."
Snapp said there are plenty of jobs available in Lawrence County.
"We need people to fill these jobs," Snapp said. "There's probably 300 or 400 jobs within 12 miles of my office on Main Street in Walnut Ridge."
Snapp said he hoped all the participants in the roundtable discussion realized this is just the beginning of things for Lawrence County.
"I hope the officials," Snapp said. "From the towns that are represented in the county understand the need for the jobs, and I hope the investors that are already looking at the area or are already investing in the area understand that this isn't a short-term startup. This is the start-up of a long-term growth cycle that you're fixing to see in Lawrence County. This is our time. If we don't complete this and see it through and take advantage now, it'll never happen again in my lifetime."
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