Sen. Boozman addresses economic development in south Arkansas visit

Senator John Boozman speaks to Stephens Mayor Harry Brown before the Golden Triangle Economic Development Council Board Meeting on Wednesday. (Bradly Gill/Camden News)
Senator John Boozman speaks to Stephens Mayor Harry Brown before the Golden Triangle Economic Development Council Board Meeting on Wednesday. (Bradly Gill/Camden News)

U.S. Senator John Boozman visited south Arkansas on Wednesday, attending the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting, touring South Arkansas Community College's East Campus and talking economic development with members of the Golden Triangle Economic Development Council.

Boozman is currently running for re-election and will face Republican challengers Jake Bequette, Jan Morgan and Heath Loftis in the May 24 primaries.

The primary focus of Boozman's visit was economic development. The senior senator toured SouthArk's Advanced Manufacturing Training Center and met with SouthArk President Dr. Bentley Wallace to discuss the college's role in workforce development.

"I was so impressed with the facilities. This is a great example of what we need to be doing in Arkansas. You have a regional facility, you've got public and private partnerships, businesses coming in, the most modern technologies," Boozman said. "They do a really good job."

Boozman highlighted the importance of good wages, noting that many other political issues pale in comparison for the average person.

"We talked about a lot of problems that are going on in the country, going on in the world, but if you can't make a living wage and take care of your family, everything else is pretty unimportant and that's what that facility (AMTC) is really all about," he said.

He also said he appreciated SouthArk's work with local high school students in making college courses available to them.

"It's just something I know the region is very proud of, and we need to see a lot more of," he said. "(I'm) so impressed with the facility and the work that is being done. We want to make sure that we are able to help with the federal component any way we can."

At the Golden Triangle Council meeting, Boozman addressed some hot political topics, including inflation, the price of oil and the future of the U.S. workforce.

"I'm very concerned, as you are, about inflation, as I go around and look. The problem is a lot of those people commute, a lot of people are driving all over the place in this part of the country. That makes a big difference. So we're working hard to try and get the administration to produce more resources. We're blessed with an abundance of energy, "Boozman said. "We've got oil, we've got gas, we've got coal, wind and solar, geothermal. I'm for using all of it."

Boozman said he believes the United States should reduce its reliance on countries like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia for oil, noting that U.S. drilling practices are more responsible than many other countries'.

Noting his tour of SouthArk, Boozman also pointed out changes in the U.S. workforce, noting that the "Baby Boomer" generation is aging out of the job market, while younger people are waiting longer to marry and start families.

"Labor is a huge issue. I was at (South Arkansas Community College) talking about that. That's just an issue that something is difficult to deal with. I don't care who you are, what you produce, it's just difficult to find the workforce, regardless of the wages that you pay," he said.

Boozman touched on the I-69 corridor, which will cross the Ouachita River and run north of El Dorado near Louann to meet US82 west of El Dorado between Magnolia and El Dorado, noting that a lot of untouched dollars were located in the transportation bill and efforts would be made to move some of that funding for the I-19 project.

"We'll just have to wait and see. It's not for lack of trying," Boozman said.

Bill Luther, executive director of the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce, touted some good economic development news during the meeting as well.

"On the jobs front, I have some positive news," Luther said.

He said Shaw Industries, a carpet manufacturing company, purchase the factory previously utilized by Chicago Bridge and Iron and that 148 unionized metal workers from around the country had been hired.

He also provided an update on an ongoing project to widen Hillsboro Street. The Arkansas Department of Transportation has started property acquisition in the area, and while the project is somewhat behind schedule, progress is being made, Luther said.

"The project was supposed to turn dirt of June of next year. Utilities are a bit slow," he said.

Boozman said the cooperative efforts of the Golden Triangle Council will be helpful for the region.

"You all do a tremendous job of representing the region," he said.

photo Member of the Golden Triangle Economic Development Council held their quarterly board meeting at Smackover Town Hall and gave updates on developments in the area. (Bradly Gill/Camden News)

Upcoming Events