Leader Blues

Monday, February 01, 2010

TOP STORY >> City gets by without state help

Mike Wilson (from left), Mayor Gary Fletcher and Sen. John Paul Capps talk at the Jacksonville chamber banquet.

New president Jason Wilkinson (left) with his predecessor Phillip Carlisle.

By RICK KRON

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville is moving forward without asking for state money, said outgoing chamber president Phillip Carlisle a number of times at the group’s annual banquet Tuesday, and each time he paused and looked at the guest speaker of the night, Gov. Mike Beebe.

Carlisle said he had the pleasure, during his year as president, to help break ground for the new Jacksonville Lighthouse Academy charter school.

“This was a citywide event where the people of Jacksonville got behind the idea, raised the money and built the school without any state money,” he said.

Carlisle paused and looked at the governor for effect.

He went on to say that the city residents voted to tax themselves to raise $5 million for the new Joint Education Center being built near the front entrance to Little Rock Air Force Base. The military chipped in about $9.8 million for the multi-school building that both military and civilians will use.

“Once again,” Carlisle said, “it was Jacksonville taking care of its own, all without help from the state government.”

Carlisle paused once again and all eyes went to the governor.

And then Carlisle told the crowd of about 300 at the community center that the city was working hard to get the new state fairground built on about 400 acres of land inside and outside the city limits. “And guess what, governor — we haven’t asked you for a dime.”

Carlisle added that none of those three projects were chamber projects, but they were projects all sectors of the city were involved in.

Later in the evening, when the governor took to the podium, he said he kept waiting for the other shoe to fall—for Carlisle to say that the city now wanted state help for something, but Carlisle never did. The governor praised the city for its independent efforts and work.
Carlisle also took time to try to answer the No. 1 question he has been asked over the past year: “What does the chamber actually do?”

Ribbon cuttings and groundbreakings are the most visible actions of the chamber. Carlisle admitted that when he became president he was excited about his first ribbon cutting, even if it was in Cabot.

“It showed how important Jacksonville is to outside businesses that they want to be a part of our chamber,” Carlisle explained. That ribbon-cutting was for Fat Daddy’s restaurant, which has since been renamed.

He said the chamber added 41 new members during the year, sponsored the business expo, a health expo and the Wing Ding Festival.

Carlisle said despite the falling economy, the expo was very successful, the need for the health expo was tremendous and the Wing Ding Festival was the city’s best yet. He said the festival was close to becoming one of the top festivals in the area.

“When people think of central Arkansas, they will say Pops on the River, Toad Suck and Wing Ding,” the outgoing president said.

The chamber also sponsored the city’s 52nd annual Christmas parade. “That’s a long time,” he said, adding that the parade had about 1,200 participants.

He said the chamber started quarterly luncheons for the area’s manufacturing and industrial sector and brought in economic-development speakers from the state.

He said the luncheons have been well-received, and incoming president Jason Wilkinson plans to start similar gatherings for small businesses.

Carlisle is proud of the chamber’s mentoring program. He is also an active participant and said it really makes a difference in children’s lives knowing that they have someone they can depend on. He said the program helps 60 kids in local schools, but there are 100 more on the waiting list.

Carlisle concluded by telling the audience that both the city and the chamber were “in wonderful shape.”

Other new chamber officers are vice president Jody Urquhart and treasurer Larry Biernacki.