Seven years ago L.J. Bryant became one of the youngest candidates in history to seek a statewide office when he ran for Land Commissioner. He lost that race narrowly, but it taught him a lot about the art of politics, he told Talk Business & Politics.
The skill of meeting and greeting people has been critical to his success and business, and now it will help the 30-year-old craft policies for the the city of Jonesboro. He has been selected to replace Alderman Darrel Dover, who recently resigned after he moved out of the city. Bryant’s appointment is for 18 months, and he will be eligible to run for election.
“Serving on the council was on my radar screen at some point,” he said. “I’ve been involved in business and civic organizations and this was a logical step.”
Bryant plans to spend time with city department heads to grasp what issues face the city. One obvious problem comes from a positive place, he said. Jonesboro has had positive economic and population growth in recent years, but the expansion comes with a price, he said. The city needs infrastructure improvements – road projects, sidewalks, etc. – to keep pace with the growth, he said. Bryant hopes to develop more finite positions on ways to make those improvements once he meets with other elected officials and administrators in different departments.
One issue that governmental entities around the country will deal with in the coming years is water availability. There are many cities and towns nationwide that are suffering from water shortages, and those will only grow, he said. Jonesboro is unique in that it has a plentiful water supply. The availability of water and cheap utility rates could lure more food processors and other manufacturers to the largest city in Northeast Arkansas, he said.
Bryant is pleased his new position is non-partisan. One appeal of his new job is he can help craft policies without the burden of a party affiliation. He ran as a Democrat in 2010 and again in 2012 when he lost a state representative race by less than 50 votes. His wife, Rebekah, worked for U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, before they married.
He is the co-chairman of the NEA Political Animals organization. Andrea Allen, a Republican who also worked for Crawford, is the other co-chairman.
One issue the city will tackle during his tenure is sidewalk growth. Jonesboro needs to add sidewalks, but there are many roadways such as Caraway Road that will probably undergo expansion in the coming years. It doesn’t make sense to build sidewalks along roadways that will be expanded, he said.
In the next few years Jonesboro leaders have said they will need to focus on quality of life projects to help lure better paying to the region’s hub city. Many companies regard quality of life as a key metric as to whether they will locate in a certain area. It’s a significant factor to highly skilled and educated workers. Public-private partnerships are becoming a viable way to proceed with projects, and the city needs to find ways to develop more of them, he said.
Jonesboro’s unemployment rate has hovered in the 3% to 4% range for more than a year, so jobs are plentiful. But, the median household income is stagnant at around $43,000 annually, more than 20% below the national average. Bryant plans to seek re-election next year. Jonesboro aldermen are elected city-wide, and he plans to visit with as many voters as he can.
“I really enjoy getting out and talking to voters … I’m grateful the council chose me to serve,” Bryant said.