The El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce routinely fields questions about why certain businesses, particularly national restaurant and retail chains, do not locate to El Dorado.
“I hear it all the time, ‘Why can’t we get a Chick-fil-A?’ People are constantly asking,” said Mike Dumas, president and chief executive officer of the chamber.
This week, Dumas and Brandon Barnette, economic development project manager for the chamber, laid out to the El Dorado Works Board some of the challenges they face in attracting popular restaurant and retail chains.
They explained that the area does not fit many of the criteria and guidelines that will draw national chains.
Dumas and Barnette said they repeatedly hear that El Dorado is too small and does not have the daily traffic count to support such businesses.
Barnette said Chick-fil-A requires a daily traffic flow of 20,000 to pass in front of its businesses.
Just this year, that traffic count was reached in only one spot in El Dorado: the area near Walmart Supercenter.
Dumas and Barnette said the space between 19th Street and the retail giant is highly coveted by national restaurant chains, but there is no buildable property there.
Also, existing buildings and available acreage do not fit the specifications that are required by the chains, they said.
“When folks talk about Chick-fil-A, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel … we don’t have the population. There are guidelines and criteria for businesses, and if you don’t meet it, they don’t talk to you,” Dumas said. “They want a population of 100,000 within 30 minutes.”
For years, civic, business and community leaders in the Golden Triangle — El Dorado, Camden and Magnolia — have tried with little success to market the area as a package to help meet population requirements for national chains.
One chain has visited El Dorado twice and has expressed interest in the area near Walmart.
“Chili’s has been here for two years looking, and all we hear from real estate agents is the space in front of Walmart,” Barnette said.
Dumas said Chili’s turned down one existing property near Walmart because the price was too high.
“What was available was more than they wanted to pay,” he said.
The daily traffic count in front of Mellor Park Mall is 19,000, national chains have not expressed much interest in locating there, Barnette said.
Another popular restaurant chain passed on El Dorado because it is not near an interstate highway, chamber officials said.
“Cracker Barrel told us they’ve got to be on the interstate. They don’t want to live off local traffic. They want travelers on their way to places like Atlanta and Dallas,” Dumas said.
He pointed to Ruston, Louisiana, which is bisected by I-20 and whose city population is not much larger than that of El Dorado.
“I don’t know what the traffic count is on I-20, but the businesses that are on that frontage road are there because of the traffic count on I-20,” Dumas noted.
Starbucks is another chain that has considered El Dorado, but that consideration has not yielded any concrete results, Dumas said.
Another obstacle standing in El Dorado’s way is competition with franchise owners because the city is considered a part of the North Louisiana territory.
Franchisers typically trend toward Little Rock, Northwest Arkansas, and Pine Bluff, Barnette said, adding, “Then they look at El Dorado.”
Dumas and Barnette said one Louisiana franchise owner took a chance in El Dorado with the recent opening of Sam’s Southern Eatery, 401 W. Hillsboro
“The thing is, I can’t bring them to town. They’ve got to make the decision to come,” Dumas said. “That’s what we deal with, and we’re working on it. We know what they’re looking for, and we’re constantly keeping an eye on it.”
Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.