Lesa Walter has been fascinated by numbers since she was young, and civic and business leaders hope she’ll be able to move Lawrence County’s economic indicators in a positive direction.
Walter has been hired as the new Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce director. She replaces long-time Director Kathy Bradley, who passed away following a fight with a terminal illness.
“I’m ready to jump in, feet first,” Walter told Talk Business & Politics. “I love being involved in the community. I can’t wait to get out and meet with our businesses and assess what we need to do.”
Walter spent the previous 13 years as the high school principal administrative assistant for the Lawrence County School District. She also worked as an accountant in a real estate office, and has banking and other office management experience. A Walnut Ridge native, Walter has been involved in numerous community committees and projects including the Beatles at the Ridge Festival, one of the signature annual celebrations in Northeast Arkansas.
Lawrence and surrounding counties have unique economic development problems that will have to be addressed, she said. The county has an unemployment rate of 3.2%, a drop of 1.8 points since January, according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor. The number of unemployed residents in the county has dropped nearly 30% to 226 unemployed workers as of May, since the end of 2016. The median income in the county is $32,379, far below the national average of more than $55,000. About 23.7% of the population lives at or below the poverty line.
There are jobs to be had, and that’s a start she said. There are concerns about the lack of housing and how that impacts job stability and wage growth. Walter said she doesn’t have a specific plan about to deal with the steadily growing housing crisis that threatens to stifle economic growth, but she will work with civic and business leaders to address the problem.
“Having available jobs is a good problem to have,” she said. “The lack of housing is definitely an issue we will have to deal with.”
Developing new and different office practices and spending time with business owners are among her initial priorities. The chamber has 215 members, and she hopes to grow that number, she said.
Among her other priorities will be a revamp of the chamber’s information on its Web and social media sites. She plans to continue Bradley’s weekly email newsletter blasts that provide information about meetings and upcoming events. Information packets that will include demographic, resource, and other pertinent information for potential business owners or those who want to expand an existing business will also be developed, she said.
Her husband, Jon, is a Walnut Ridge city council member and the couple has deep roots in the community. She wants to help the local economy evolve with local businesses, she said. Some parts of the county are rural and have specific needs, while towns such as Walnut Ridge and Hoxie have urban elements and the business dynamics are completely different. No part of the county will be forgotten during her watch, she said.
“I want to help all of Lawrence County move forward,” she said.