Jonesboro Chamber heading to D.C., highways and infrastructure part of lobbying agenda

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 141 views 

A plan to make U.S. 67 from North Little Rock to Walnut Ridge into an interstate highway will provide a key boost for Jonesboro and the rest of the state, the president of the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce said Thursday (April 7).

Mark Young said the topic will be discussed next week as about 35 area officials head to the nation’s capital. In addition, chamber officials also plan to discuss a $12 million to $15 million project to strengthen the runways at the Jonesboro Municipal Airport.

The chamber has sponsored a privately funded trip to Washington, D.C., every year for the last 25 to 30 years to discuss issues and to let lawmakers and their staffs know about the issues in the region. The group will leave Wednesday (April 13) and will return Friday (April 15).

Young said the U.S. 67 project is supported by the chamber and several other chamber groups in the region. Right now, the highway, which connects Little Rock to Northeast Arkansas, is built to interstate standards with only a name change needed.

Jon Chadwell, executive director of the Newport Chamber of Commerce, said Friday (April 8) that the Newport Economic Development Commission recently passed a resolution in support of the project. Chadwell said the interstate designation will help with economic development because companies typically want to have interstate access when looking at an area for potential growth. The nearest interstate (I-40) is about 70 miles away while an interstate quality road (U.S. 67) is about a mile away, Chadwell said, noting the current situation is often difficult to explain to companies interested in locating in Newport.

Chadwell said if the highway is upgraded to interstate status, it would provide a three-layered opportunity for the region. First, the change would open up large truck traffic along U.S. 67, linking Little Rock to Missouri. Now, large trucks typically travel on I-40 to I-55, heading north to cities like St. Louis and Chicago. The change could cut off travel time for businesses wanting to deliver goods. Second, the opening of U.S. 67 to interstate status would alleviate traffic concerns at the I-40/I-55 interchange at West Memphis, Chadwell said.

Also, Chadwell said the towns along U.S. 67 could grow due to the interstate change. Recently, there has been a lot of commercial growth in Newport with new restaurants and car dealerships opening.

Young said the airport renovations, which are long-term, will also help draw further interest in the Jonesboro Municipal Airport. The plan, according to officials, is to strengthen runways with an asphalt overlay of six to 10 inches. Once completed, the work will allow planes that carry 20 to 150 passengers to land at the airport. The airport has about three flights a day from regional carrier Air Choice One to St. Louis.

“We have a great airport and a great airport commission. This will give us the capacity to land larger aircraft,” Young said of the project.

As for agriculture, Young and Chamber Vice President Cari White said Jonesboro and the region have strong ties to the industry. White said the recent drop in commodity prices as well as regulations and trade policies have provided a one-two punch for area farmers to battle.

While agriculture is a key part of the economy in Craighead County, Jonesboro is home to several food related companies (Nestle, Frito Lay and Butterball). Young said a key focus of the trip is to discuss access to markets and building skilled workers for the future.

White said the trip has been successful in the past, citing construction of I-555 as a example.

“They are so appreciative of us coming up there,” White said, noting the visit can give lawmakers and their staffs an opportunity to put a name with a face.