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Mattingly puts together economic advisory panel

By: 29 March 2011 One Comment

David Mattingly took office as mayor of Benton on Jan. 1 and he’s been a busy man since them.

To his credit, Mattingly has been seeking a lot of input from citizens. A couple of weeks ago, the first meeting of an economic advisory panel (of sorts) took place and included business leaders from around the city. Oddly enough, yours truly — good ole Ethan C. Nobles — was among those invited to take part in a discussion of what needs to be done to bolster economic development in our fair city.

What was decided at the first meeting? Not a whole lot, honestly. However, Mattingly made it clear that economic development is a priority of his and the purpose of that meeting was simply to get the conversation started. More meetings will take place in the future and the hope is we’ll have some solid suggestions for the Mayor.

Our situation in Benton is more than a bit unique. According to the latest Census, our city has over 30,000 people living in it and Saline County has grown to include over 100,000 residents. Still, most of the workforce heads north to Little Rock every morning.

In short, we’ve got a growing population but not enough jobs available to keep people from commuting every morning. That is a situation Mattingly wants to correct. Good for him.

A lack of jobs wasn’t always the case here in Benton. There was a time when Alcoa and Reynolds had plants here to mine the county’s rich bauxite deposits and refine them into aluminum. The aluminum industry was, without a doubt, the main employer in the county.

Times were good back then, indeed. The aluminum industry brought inconceivable amounts of money into the county — a fact that was made abundantly clear during World War II when Saline County workers did their part toward providing the “Arsenal of Democracy” with the material it needed to destroy the Axis.

The aluminum industry gained in size and impact right up until the early 1980s when Alcoa and Reynolds started to shift operations elsewhere. Suddenly, unionized workers who were making $20 or so an hour (great money back in the 1980s and pretty good by today’s standards in Arkansas, too) found themselves without jobs.

What did they do? Many of them wound up going to Little Rock to work and that trend has held up for over two decades now. In short, Saline County lost its major industry and hasn’t yet recovered.

Hopefully, Mattingly’s plan to gather information and figure out what needs to be done to bring more jobs to Benton and Saline County will work as intended. We’ve got a lot to offer in these parts — great schools throughout the county, friendly residents and a comparatively laid back lifestyle. We’ve also got a growing population and a lot of people who are sick and tired of driving to Little Rock every morning to go to work.

Hopefully, we’ll see a productive plan in place that will remedy that situation. Employment is the missing piece of the puzzle here in Saline County, and it’s encouraging to see Mattingly tackle a problem that has been with us for over a quarter of a century.

More encouraging still is the fact that other cities in Saline County (yes, Bryant is chief among them) have recognized that we’ve got a region here in Saline County rather than a collection of cities. What does that mean? Towns that come together for the purpose of promoting a region recognize that an employer coming into, say, Bryant benefits residents in Bauxite, Benton, Harmony Grove, etc., too. People with that mindset tend to work together on projects rather than competing for a finite pool of resources.

Stay tuned…

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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