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Town hall focuses on improvements for Jonesboro and nearby communities

Published: May. 18, 2022 at 6:59 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Community leaders took a good hard look at the triumphs and failures the City of Jonesboro as well as nearby communities have faced.

Roby Brock, CEO of content partner Talk Business & Politics, organized a ‘Better Communities’ conversation at Embassy Suites Wednesday morning to talk about just that: Ways to make communities better.

The conversation began with panelists praising the reasons why Jonesboro succeeds. Chris Barber, CEO of St. Bernards Healthcare CEO, credits part of the city’s success to its diverse economy.

“A third of its manufacturing, a third of it is the service sector, and about a third is agricultural,” he said. “We’ve been ready to weather the storm when you’ve had economic downturn in this region.”

The talks quickly turned into challenges Northeast Arkansas cities are facing, with working retention and housing being the biggest focus.

Panelists explained cities like Blytheville, Paragould and Pocahontas depend on the success of Jonesboro.

Blytheville Mayor James Sanders said they want to establish an educated workforce in Mississippi County.

However, many leaders said worker retention is dependent on the available housing in the area.

“We want to be able to attract people but we also want to make sure that they stay and that they’re comfortable while they’re here on their off time,” he said.

Some believe the problem could be solved by looking at housing ideas in other parts of the country.

“Some of these other communities that I’ve seen have really cool cottage communities and townhomes and those kinds of things,” said Christy Valentine, Manager of Academic Partnerships for Hytrol. “That’s relatively a really easy fix. An affordable, cool neighborhood feel. I think we’re going to get that with the Greensborough Village. Again, we’ve gotta get aggressive and that’s one of the challenges we’re facing.”

Quality of life and places to go also came up during the conversation.

Dr. Len Frey, Executive Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administration for Arkansas State University, said she knows the future banks on keeping students to work in this area.

“I think both from a community standpoint to a university standpoint. People are wanting activities, a quality of life,” he said.

However, there’s momentum in Jonesboro.

Mayor Harold Copenhaver said they haven’t lost sight of the mall, which a tornado ripped apart over two years ago.

“They ask as well about the mall and the direction of an indoor facility,” he said. “That’s the reason we’re trying to incorporate a two-percent sales tax initiative moving forward that hopefully, we can complete in 2024 that will provide these amenities.”

Community leaders also talked about the plans for a regional airport in the northeast part of the state.

They brought up the issue that Region 8 News reported on back late last year about strengthening the runways at the Jonesboro Municipal Airport.

There’s also a study community leaders hope will uncover how feasible that airport could be for our area.

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