Jonesboro Chamber’s D.C. trip productive, officials say

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 145 views 

Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce Vice President Cari White said Wednesday (April 20) that the annual trip that chamber and elected officials take to Washington, D.C. has provided dividends in the past. White said she is hopeful that this year’s trip can be as successful as the others.

“It was fast and furious,” White said of the pace for the three-day trip, which ended Friday (April 15).

During the trip, about 35 regional leaders who made the trip met with U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark. and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and staff members for U.S. Reps. French Hill, R-Little Rock, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs.

There were two main focal points for the privately funded trip this year – making U.S. 67 from Walnut Ridge to North Little Rock an interstate highway as well as strengthening the runways at the Jonesboro Municipal Airport by putting in a six to 10 inch asphalt overlay.

On the interstate project, White said the group received very positive feedback from lawmakers on the idea. Supporters of the plan have said the infrastructure on the highway, which links Jonesboro to Little Rock, is already up to interstate standards while upgrading the highway would alleviate traffic problems in the West Memphis/Memphis area on I-55 and I-40.

In a recent interview with Talk Business & Politics, Crawford said the designation will mean a lot to the region.

“Jonesboro has taken the leadership role here, but every community on U.S. 67 stands to benefit from this,” Crawford said. “Quite frankly, I-40 is sort of a congested mess. Two-thirds of the traffic there are big trucks and generally speaking, they are going east to go north.”

Crawford said the designation would help relieve traffic problems and would help recruit jobs to the region.

“[I]f you can relieve some of that pressure, through a designated interstate, that’s good. Then from an economic development standpoint, those communities on that interstate, as we have seen, interstate access is critical to economic development if we can check that box,” Crawford said, noting towns like Searcy, Cabot, Beebe and Newport could benefit.

The airport renovations, which would likely cost between $12 and $15 million to complete, is likely a long-term plan. White said the upgrades would allow large corporate jets and planes carrying athletic teams to land in Jonesboro, instead of flying into Memphis.

A key for the future also includes building an eastern bypass around Jonesboro, starting on Commerce Drive and linking I-555 in Jonesboro with U.S. 49 heading to Paragould.

White said the group met with Crawford Wednesday night (April 13) soon after landing in the nation’s capital. Crawford spoke to the group about his recent trip to Cuba as well as trade issues in the state.

“He said it was a very enlightening trip,” White said, noting the potential for trade in Latin America is good, especially with rice.

On Thursday, the group met with Boozman for breakfast and Cotton during the lunch hour. Boozman also spoke about trade and agriculture as well as commodity prices. Cotton spoke to the group about regulations as well as the powers left to the state and local governments, White said.

The trip ended Thursday night with the staff meetings. White said the meetings helped congressional staffers learn more about Jonesboro and Northeast Arkansas, as well as discussing policy. She also said the trip was educational for several Arkansas State University agri-business students. The students had an opportunity to meet with Crawford and his staff to talk about agriculture.

“It was kind of cool. He invited all four students for a roundtable discussion to get their thoughts,” White said.