Let’s keep investing in Jonesboro’s bright future

by Gabe Roberts ([email protected]) 340 views 

Nearly three decades ago, my life began at St. Bernard’s Medical Center, and I have been living in Jonesboro ever since. I have been blessed with two children, also born at St. Bernard’s, and my wife Megan and I will be welcoming our third child any day now. Megan, and I are both graduates of Jonesboro High School and Arkansas State University. We have enjoyed the past, are loving the present, and are very excited about the future of our community.

My entire professional career I have been a banker. I once heard a quote that has stuck with me and adequately sums up my belief in what a bank can be and do: “A sign of a strong community is a strong community bank and a strong community bank is a sign of a strong community.”

As long as I can remember there has been a community bank based either in Jonesboro or somewhere close by in Northeast Arkansas. As of June 30, 2021, the FDIC reported 47 bank branches from 21 different institutions with total deposits of $3.67 billion in Craighead County. On June 30, 2011, the FDIC reported 46 bank branches from 14 different institutions with total deposits of $2.23 billion. Craighead County deposits have grown over this 10-year period by a staggering 64%, and with this growth has come more competition. Seven banks have entered the market since 2011 that were not part of a merger or acquisition, and not one bank controls over 25% of the market share. This fierce competition should benefit consumers and businesses for many years to come.

There are many things to love about Jonesboro. We have five public school districts that do a great job preparing Jonesboro’s youth for their future.

Jonesboro is fortunate to have two elite healthcare providers. NEA Baptist and St. Bernard’s are economic drivers and pillars for our community. These healthcare providers are continually growing in their services and providing more options to residents so they do not have to travel to Memphis or Little Rock to get the treatment they need.

An area for improvement that has recently come into the spotlight is quality of life. The ability for companies to attract and retain young families must remain a focal point going forward.

As you may recall, a 1% sales tax increase failed by roughly 200 votes in 2019. This outcome disappointed me because the new funds would’ve been earmarked solely for quality of life or community improvement projects and to increase budgets for our firefighters and police officers. Still, to date, Jonesboro has one of the lowest sales tax rates in the state. Nice things cost money, and in order to compete with the other cities in the state we need to step up to the plate and offer more in regards to quality of life activities.

Fortunately, our city council passed an ordinance for a 2% prepared food tax in September. This tax will generate millions in additional revenue that will be earmarked to go directly towards a multisport complex. The A&P commission recently approved a feasibility study to take place to help our city further plan where this complex should go and what it should consist of. I am hopeful whatever project is selected, citizens of all ages will benefit from the new complex. An additional attraction I would love to see in Jonesboro in the coming years is a children’s museum similar to the Scott Family Amazeum in Bentonville.

In March 2020, the tornado that hit Jonesboro really hit home for me, literally. Luckily, we only suffered minor roof damage compared to others who lost everything. I remember watching the news that day and suddenly we lost power and took cover. After family and friends told us the tornado had made its way through our town, we left the basement not sure of what we would see. As we stood in our backyard, we heard sirens engulfing our town.

After seeing the footage, we learned our mall and airport took a direct hit. Turtle Creek Mall has since turned into a construction site with no formal plans of how or if it will rebuild. Personally, I would love to see this prime real estate turn into an outdoor mall.

In regards to the airport, it has rebuilt the majority of the areas impacted from the tornado two years ago. In March the first direct flight from Jonesboro to Nashville took place. I think traveling is key to one’s development. I would love to see Jonesboro continue to expand in offering flights to hubs such as Charlotte, Dallas and Atlanta. Most flights from Memphis or Little Rock already go to these hubs before reaching final destinations. These flights would keep money in Jonesboro and further attract people to our region.

Jonesboro is currently in a great spot to springboard into the future with further quality of life projects. I look forward to being a banker in Jonesboro and more importantly raising my family at the place I call home. If Jonesboro continues to grow and improve in these sectors of education, entertainment, healthcare, and travel, the sky is the limit for our future.

Editor’s note: Gabe Roberts is vice president and loan officer for First Community Bank in Jonesboro. The opinions expressed are those of the author.