Residents: Saline County overlooks Village

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 20, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 18, 2013 at 1:15 p.m.
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PHOTO BY: Curt Youngblood

Tom Arwood, right, talks about his ideas for the economic development of Saline County. Arwood and Mike Medica, left, were among attendees at a public meeting held Wednesday by Del Boyette, president & CEO of Boyette Strategic Advisors, to gather public opinions about the county.

The nation’s largest gated community — Hot Springs Village — sits half in Saline County and half in Garland County, but residents do more business and feel closer to Garland County and Hot Springs, rather than Saline County, Benton and Bryant.

A group of around 15 residents made and discussed that comment during the first public hearing held to help the Saline County Economic Development Corp. form a new five-year strategic plan for growth in the county.

The meeting was held Wednesday at the Ponce de Leon Center in Hot Springs Village.

“No one seems to do a good job of telling the Village what is available in Benton and Bryant,” said Tom Arwood, who has been a member of the Saline economic-development group and is active in promoting growth for both Hot Springs Village and the county. “I think improving communications is an important first step in any plan.”

Arwood, who has lived in Hot Springs Village for 15 years, said he often hires small businesses for work around his home.

“It is my feeling that most of those are from Garland County, and we see few coming in looking for business from the east side (Saline County, from Benton or Bryant).

Residents outlined several challenges as reasons that they do more business with Garland County.

“There is a great need to improve [Arkansas] Highway 5,” said Jack Larsen, who retired and moved to the Village in 1996. Arkansas 5 connects the east gate of Hot Springs Village to Benton and Interstate 30 and continues into Bryant.

Arwood said plans are under way to improve Arkansas 7, which connects the west gate of the community to Hot Springs, into a four-lane roadway.

Other residents said more development is occurring outside the west gate than the east gate because Saline County is dry, while Garland County permits alcohol sales.

Several residents mentioned that any restaurants on the Saline side of the Village can not receive alcoholic-beverage deliveries from wholesalers, although businesses serving alcohol can receive deliveries to their doors on the Garland County side of the community.

Eddie Black, executive director of the Saline County Economic Development Corp., said the meeting re-enforced what he already knew, that Saline County is in competition with Garland County when it comes to the Village.

“Absolutely,” Black said. “There has always been more identification with Hot Springs and Garland County; look at the name of the community itself.”

He said he learned that some 6,000 Hot Springs Village residents live on the Garland County side, compared to more than 8,000 who live in Saline County.

“It seems the development on the Saline County side could trend toward more commercial retail,” he said.

“We need auto dealerships, health care, theaters and other consumer business,” one resident said. “No other community of 15,000 is without these things.”

Arwood pointed out that Hot Springs Village residents have average incomes greater than the averages in both counties and the state. Residents believe that businesses, especially those in Saline County, have overlooked the spending power of the community.

Another major challenge to economic growth in the county and the Village is the lack of jobs, residents said.

Many at the meeting said the community is filled with retired professionals and business executives who would be interested in making their expertise available to new businesses of all kinds, if they would open operations in or near Hot Springs Village.

“There are a lot of successful professionals who would be interested in getting a well-paying job they could do 20 hours a week,” Black said. “Many still want to contribute, but not for a full 40-hour week.”

The 20-hour-a-week job or being business consultants was a popular idea with the residents. One member said volunteerism is strong in the community because so many retired residents are looking for things to do.

The younger people in the community need jobs, said Donna Aylward of Summit Bank.

“Those next retirees, those who are still working now, will have to work longer before they can retire because of what happened to the economy,” she said at the meeting. “This idea of high-paying part-time jobs could also attract more people.”

Del Boyette of Boyette Strategic Advisors, who facilitated the meeting for the economic-development group, said the kinds of part-time jobs being discussed could be a step toward retirement for many late in their careers and could help the community by bringing in new residents.

There are already more than just retirees living in Hot Springs Village. In a move to enhance growth, the Village has been positioned as a resort-living community, making an appeal to younger residents.

However, Arwood said, none of the promotional materials from the community mentions jobs.

There are more families now living in the Village. According to information from the Hot Springs Village Property Owners’ Association, more than 800 children live in the community. Most attend school in Garland County, either in the Jessieville Public School District or the Fountain Lake School District.

There are no schools close to the Saline County side of the Village, and the community long ago decided not to have a school in the gated community.

The Wednesday meeting with Hot Springs Village residents was to be the third public session in the effort to create a new economic development plan for Saline County, but the sessions scheduled for Tuesday in Benton and Bryant were postponed because of the bad weather.

“We had hoped to have the larger meetings first, but we had to reschedule because of the ice storm,” Black said. “They have been rescheduled, and we don’t expect the delay to set back our deadlines.

Boyette told residents at the meeting that a proposed strategic plan would be made public in March.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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