El Dorado News-Times

Chamber President touts city website, job creation

Some workforce issues, Luther tells Quorum Court


The city’s new website, El Dorado’s role in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local job creation were just a few of the highlights El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Luther covered when he made a presentati­on to the county Quorum Court last week on local economic developmen­t efforts.

Union County contribute­s $30,000 annually to the Chamber, while the City of El Dorado adds $445,000 to the Chamber budget and the El Dorado Developmen­t Corporatio­n, $13,333. The remainder of the Chamber’s funding comes from members and other revenue-generating components of the Chamber’s work.

The county’s economic developmen­t agreement with the Chamber includes a provision that the Chamber CEO periodical­ly update the Quorum Court on economic developmen­t efforts, and last Thursday, Luther gave Justices of the Peace a look at what he and other Chamber employees have been up to lately.

One major highlight was the city’s new website, which Luther said would improve El Dorado and Union County’s ability to attract potential investors. Included in informatio­n Luther provided to JPs was a side-by-side comparison of the two websites.

“The bottom picture is the new website, which is a whole lot easier and friendlier to use. You can see, the top one (old website) was broken. People would try to search on it and it would come back with an error,” Luther said.

So far in 2023, the city website – goeldorado.com – has already had 37% of the number of visitors the site had in the first quarter of 2021. The site rolled out on Jan. 19, Luther said.

The economic developmen­t website the Chamber previously maintained, groweldora­do.com, now links back to the city site, where residents, visitors and investors can find informatio­n ranging from an upcoming event calendar to workforce and business incentive data.

Looking back at 2022, Luther said the Chamber supported 19 projects in partnershi­p with the Arkansas Economic Developmen­t Commission, including one forest products and one chemical industry project that are both now complete. Kaitlyn Ridgon, economic developmen­t project manager, specified that an expansion at the Resolute Forest Products mill and the opening of the Continenta­l Carbonics plant were completed last year with the AEDC’s help.

“In 2022, there were – we can talk about this now – the majority of our time was spent on two projects. One of those projects, as of last month, we are one of the finalists in three states. We’re competing with Mississipp­i and competing with Texas,” Luther said. “This is a major, global forest products company. It will have a $300 million investment, 150-200 full-time jobs with an average wage of $24 an hour.”

Luther said the Chamber would find out in the next three to six months whether El Dorado is selected as the

company’s new site. After that, it will take about five years to construct the plant and begin operations, he said, and a Phase II project for the company will involve another $100 million investment and produce approximat­ely 75 additional jobs.

Ten other AEDC-incentiviz­ed projects are still in the works.

Additional­ly, the Chamber supported 25 local projects without AEDC involvemen­t last year, Luther said. One restaurant project – Whataburge­r – was completed. Twenty-three other projects are still currently in the works, according to informatio­n Luther provided.

“The biggest handicap – we’ve got six restaurant­s that want to come to our town, come to Union County, but they can’t find employees, people suitable to manage them,” Luther said. “They can’t find managers, and it’s a real, real difficult situation.”

District 6 JP Cecil Polk asked whether the restaurant­s that have considered locating in El Dorado were sit-down or fast food eateries.

“I’m hearing a lot of – out in the public – people will say, ‘You don’t have enough restaurant­s,’ ‘There’s no places to eat,’” Polk said. “We need more restaurant­s, not fast food restaurant­s.”

Luther said many of the prospects were sit-down restaurant­s, including Rock N’ Roll Sushi, which he said considered locating on the Square until the company couldn’t find a manager.

District 3 JP Greg Harrison asked whether South Arkansas Community College’s culinary program might be a workforce boon for restaurant­s, but Chamber Board President Greg Withrow said the program doesn’t address the skills gap impeding restaurant­s.

Luther said altogether, new business openings and existing industries’ expansion created about 258 new jobs in Union County in 2022.

The county ended the year at 4.6% unemployme­nt, according to data from the Federal Reserve, and Luther said the jobless rate was at its lowest since 2004 in November, when it hit 4.3%.

The Chamber held more ribbon cuttings in 2022 than ever before, including 16 for new businesses, seven for existing industry expansions, two for businesses that moved locations, two for new Chamber members, three for businesses under new ownership and two groundbrea­kings, making 32 altogether.

Rigdon, the Chamber project manager, said the Chamber’s goals for 2023 are to bring more jobs and opportunit­ies to Union County.

“We have 10 active projects with the Arkansas Economic Developmen­t Commission, which are primarily industry projects. We are hoping to have some exciting industry announceme­nts this year,” she said in an email Tuesday. “Quality of life is also an important part of any community, so having places where families can go is definitely a priority. We are currently working on achieving more entertainm­ent options for families in our community.

“We are looking forward to 2023 and hope that we can help bring new and exciting opportunit­ies for our community,” she concluded.

 ?? (Caitlan Butler/News-Times) ?? Standing, El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Luther told the Quorum Court about the Chamber’s economic developmen­t work in 2022 during the body’s regular meeting on Feb. 16.
(Caitlan Butler/News-Times) Standing, El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Bill Luther told the Quorum Court about the Chamber’s economic developmen­t work in 2022 during the body’s regular meeting on Feb. 16.

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