story and photos by Julie Bagley
Despite the furious flow of business cards floating around the Benton County Business After Hours event, worries hung in the air Thursday at Toyota of NWA in Rogers, Ark.
Approximately 300 business professional mingled at the all-inclusive networking event held for members of the Chamber of Commerce for Rogers, Lowell, Bentonville, Bella Vista and Siloam Springs attended.
“Every year in January we get together and try to get our members together,” said Raymond Burns, president Rogers-Lowell area Chamber of Commerce.
While this is their annual get-together with a band, bar and good eats, thoughts were directed to the east in Little Rock and further in Washington D.C.
“As long as there is uncertainty, businesses will continue to hold onto their cash and be afraid to do anything. They don’t know what the government is going to do to them next,” Burns said.
His chamber consists of 90-95% small to medium businesses. Its membership grew this year from 1,900 to 2,025 members in 2012. The goal for 2013 is 2,100.
“On the federal level we need to get the budget in order and figure out how we can get social programs and at the same time build infrastructure,” Burns continued, “A lot of attention needs to be paid to training and education because the workforce and its needs are changing on a yearly basis.”
Krista Khone, vice president of special projects and leadership for the Bentonville Bella Vista Chamber has also seen growth in the area due to Crystal Bridges Museum and the revitalization of downtown Bentonville.
“We are starting to see businesses spend more. The economy is picking up. The sales tax in Bentonville in the last year with Crystal Bridges opening that’s really spiked.”
While Khone has seen more businesses attend more events and sponsor more events in her area she also points to worries from Little Rock.
“A lot of folks are wondering what is going to happen with the legislative session in Little Rock with the Republicans in control of the House and Senate since Reconstruction, wondering what’s going to happen,” she said.
Bentonville is growing, especially restaurants, Khone said small businesses are still recovering and “digging out.” She believes a main issue for small-to-medium businesses will be healthcare.
“But how it ends up is anyone’s guess,” she said. However, there is a sense of optimism, “Arkansas is one of the few states where everyone works well together. I don’t think you are going to see a big change.”
Burns said the two parties need to hammer out the important issues.
“When I started out in the business many years ago, we had statesman and those who could compromise. I hope Little Rock will do that.”
Burns urged businesses to communicate with the legislators but knows that’s easier said than done.
“It’s hard for small businesses to do because they are just trying to man the store.”