THREE RIVERS AREA Larry Jones sees a lot of potential in his new hometown of Batesville and is in the right position to see that potential realized. As director of the Independence County Economic Development Commission, Jones said, he wants to take the community to the next level.
“I love the environment here, the quality of life,” he said. “We have hills; we have fishing, hiking and hunting. The people are friendly and happy to be here.”
Jones was born in San Diego. His mother, Gladys, was an oceanographer, and his father, Cairo, was an accountant. Jones said his mother worked at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif.
“She was doing classified research,” Jones said, “studying how sound travels through water - primarily to detect submarines. She is still alive and kicking at age 91, and she lives in San Diego in the house I grew up in.”
He said his father worked for the San Diego gas and electric company.
“San Diego has a nice climate, and there are always things to do outdoors,” Jones said. “We were into sailing. But this was during the Cold War, and it was kind of a frightening time, based on what I knew my Mom was doing.”
At The Bishops School, a private high school in La Jolla, Jones lettered in golf and wrestling.
“The wrestling coach would hang around the gym looking for people who were cut from the basketball team,” Jones said, laughing. “It was a private school, and you had to go out for a sport. Well, I got cut from basketball, and the wrestling coach drafted me. I enjoyed it and had some success in it.”
Jones said he was always interested in land.
“My folks would buy older apartment buildings,” he said, “fix them up and resell them. This was something they did on the side. A lot of houses did not have washer and dryer hookups in those days, so my parents bought those and fixed them. I became interested in land development and land use planning.”
He graduated from the University of California with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in administration.
“I had an internship in graduate school at the Riverside County Planning Department, and that worked into my first full-time job as a land-use planner,” he said. “It was zoning, subdivisions and code enforcement, based in Riverside, Calif.”
Jones said one thing most people probably don’t know about him is that he once worked for pop star Linda Ronstadt.
“During the early 1970s, I worked for Linda as her road stage manager when she was touring. That’s my secret,” he said with a laugh. “She was dating then-California Gov. Jerry Brown. He is again governor now. He has the distinction of being both the youngest and the oldest governor of California.”
Jones said he most admires another former California governor, Ronald Reagan.
“When he was the governor of California, he did things to bring people on both sides of the political spectrum together and move the state forward,” Jones said.
Jones worked in land-use in both Riverside and Santa Barbara, Calif., before relocating to Arkansas - his wife’s home state - in the early 1990s.
“When I first came to Arkansas, I worked in appraisal in Faulkner and Pulaski counties,” Jones said. “I was the subdivision administrator for the city of Little Rock, and from there I worked in planning and development in West Memphis. That position included land-use planning and economic development. West Memphis is on a major interstate, it’s on the [Mississippi River], and it is in the Delta, so it has a lot of challenges as well as opportunities.”
He said that while in West Memphis, he recruited a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
“I’m pretty proud of that,” he said. “It is a major sales-tax generator, creates a lot of jobs and is a big event.”
From West Memphis, Jones moved to Hot Springs to serve as the planning-development director. One of his biggest achievements there, he said, came in the late 1990s, when he helped develop the Magic Springs-Crystal Falls theme park.
“I worked with the then city manager of Hot Springs on that project,” Jones said. “The site had been a theme park many years before, but it had been abandoned, and the properties had gone back to the state land commissioner.
“The city had the idea of acquiring those parcels. I used my experience as an assessor to cleanse the title of liens, putting the parcels together and making them available to the amusement-park business.”
An Indiana vendor eventually took over the properties and developed the park.
“That was the start of what is now Magic Springs,” Jones said of the project that began in 1999.
Later, Jones went to work in Greenville, Miss., as director of economic development in Washington County.
“It was a transition from land-use planning to appraisal to economic development,” Jones said of his career. “It’s all a function of land economics. They all work hand in hand.”
Jones accepted his current position in April.
“I officially started in May,” he said. “This is our first time to live in Batesville.”
He said the economic-development office is funded by a countywide quarter-cent sales tax, and because of this, the task of increasing development is a “group activity,” he said.
“Everyone in the county is participating in this activity. We’re trying to retain the jobs that are here and create and attract new ones. It trickles down throughout the economy. People do understand that because they approved the sales tax to initiate the activity. We have strong community support.”
He said Independence County has a workforce with a strong work ethic.
“We have a large regional firm that is investing $13.8 million in our community,” Jones said. “It’s only been here two years, but they recognize that we do have a strong workforce.”
He said he hopes to further develop tourism in the county.
“Tourism is a great development tool. We have the beautiful natural environment, and the [White River] could be potentially used for hotels and other water-related functions. We have public parks on both sides of the river. I think some type of small convention center would be very feasible. I’d also like to see us make more productive use of the airport.”
Companies that refurbish the exterior of commercial aircraft, for example, might find the municipal airport attractive, he said.
Staff writer Daniel A. Marsh can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
getting to know Larry Jones
Birth date: Feb. 2, 1952
Birthplace: San Diego, Calif.
Family: Parents, Cairo and Gladys Jones; wife, Terri; daughter, Robyn; son, Darrell; and three grandchildren
Hobbies: Fishing and reading
Something I would like to do but haven’t yet: Go to the Super Bowl
Favorite author: Norman Vincent Peale
Favorite comfort food: Popcorn
Three Rivers, Pages 118 on 07/22/2012
Print Headline: Larry Jones