Benton development director to head county development group

By Wayne Bryan Published August 28, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Lamont Cornwell will leave as director of economic and community development for Benton on Sept. 5 and will become executive director of the Saline County Economic Development Corp. He said the new position will focus on retail development throughout the county.

BENTON — Lamont Cornwell has started to clean out his office at the Benton Municipal Complex on South Street, where he has worked for the past four years, but he will probably not throw a lot of stuff away.

On Sept. 5, Cornwell will no longer be the director of economic and community development for the city, but he will move to an office at the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce on Market Street and take on the new challenge as executive director of the Saline County Economic Development Corp., replacing Eddie Black, who recently retired from the post.

“The job is not a lot different when it comes to economic-development efforts than what I do now,” Cornwell said after the change was announced by Benton Mayor David Mattingly. “I was going to retire at the end of the term anyway.”

Cornwell said he only considered the position with the Saline County Economic

Development Corp. after the job description changed.

“The SCEDC expanded their scope to include recruiting commercial retail and business retention, which is a special interest of mine,” Cornwell said. “The job has always been focused on bringing in industrial companies that could create a lot of jobs.”

The job will be limited to economic development without the duties of city planning and code enforcement that were part of Cornwell’s work with Benton.

The county development organization also changed the job by making it a full-time staff position.

Previously, the development corporation contracted civic leaders to be the executive director on a part-time basis. Shane Broadway worked with the organization after serving in the Arkansas Legislature, and Black had been head of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce before he became executive director of the corporation.

In 2013, members of the economic development corporation created a strategic plan dealing with economic-growth goals for the county through 2018. The plan targeted business and industry sought by the region. A new emphasis on commercial development directed toward the consumer population was developed in a lengthy series of meetings with residents around Saline County.

Cornwell is now charged with following that strategic plan. He said he met with Bryant Mayor Jill Dabbs last week and is meeting with the Saline County Quorum Court and the Benton City Council on how the two governments will work together for economic development. Cornwell said meetings with city officials in Bauxite,

Haskell and the other communities in the county will be held soon.

“We want to get the chambers and other groups involved,” he said. “I’ll be working

with some people I don’t know, and it is a very sensitive thing to make contacts

with their retail and business connections, so we are all working together. It is about trust.”

Cornwell repeated something he has said often about development in Saline County. He said competition between Benton and Bryant should be downplayed when it comes to attracting new businesses. He said it is his experience that major retailers look for specific property at the right price that offers convenience for shoppers and suppliers, without ever asking what town it is in.

“I hope we can develop a one-step contact for community development, based on a variety of sites,” Cornwell said. “I told them at my interview for this job that economic development is part science and part art. It is like a sport. You have to be strong and flexible and able to adjust at every moment and always give an honest answer.”

When Mayor Mattingly announced Cornwell’s retirement, he credited him with helping to make the dreams of the city come true.

“Lamont has played an important part in Benton’s success over the past four years,” Mattingly said. “His consensus building has led to out-of-state developers, local companies and interdepartmental groups, all working together to make things happen.”

Gary James, president of the Benton Chamber of Commerce, called Cornwell a great fit for the county.

“He is a great resource for the community,” James said. “He is a team player who has helped make exciting ideas a reality. Lamont looks at making moves that will improve the quality of place and quality of life for our community.”

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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