Newport Chamber recalls past, looks to future at banquet

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published March 20, 2017 at 9:25 a.m.
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Julie Allen, executive director of the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce, points out the veterans memorial in this conceptual drawing of the downtown park that is under construction in Newport. The park, which is being designed by Mesa Landscape Architects of Little Rock, will also include an amphitheater. Chamber officials recently honored businesses and individuals at the annual banquet, also noting events of the past and of the future, including building this park.

— Members and guests at the 81st annual Newport Area Chamber of Commerce Banquet were invited to take a look at the past as organizers presented The Chamber Time Machine: Take a Ride With Us on March 2 at the Newport Country Club. Annual awards were also presented.

“We did not have a guest speaker,” said Julie Allen, chamber executive director. “Instead, we created a 10-minute video — a ‘time machine’ — that showed some of the highlights of the past decades.

“We took every book of the chamber’s minutes of meetings that we could find and highlighted what was happening in the community,” she said. “They showed we had a strong chamber leadership from as early as 1935, although the chamber was not officially incorporated until 1941. There was even an interest in 1910-11, when several young businessmen of Newport and Jackson County saw a need to pool the talents and resources of its leaders to secure needed programs for the advancement of the county’s economy.”

Allen said some of the chamber’s earliest projects in 1910-11 were a special Western Union wire service, securing the title to the cemetery and perpetual care, and better roads for the county.

“We found those early movers and shakers were members of the chamber of commerce and were working to effect changes for the good of the community,” she said. “That is the same thing the chamber is trying to do today. We want to affect positive changes for the community and help our businesses thrive.”

Allen said common themes were seen from year to year as the focus of chamber projects — education, transportation, beautification, business and industry, and tourism.

“People loved the video,” Allen said, smiling.

In her closing remarks at the banquet, Allen told those in the audience, “I propose that in 2017, we stop every so often to think about all of the positive things around us. Let us commit to remembering where we’ve been and celebrate how far we’ve come.”

Allen said one of the recurring projects promoted by the chamber of commerce was the establishment of a trade or vocational school. That project came to fruition in 1975, when the White River Vocational-Technical School was established. Since then, that institution has grown. Chamber records show that in 1991, White River Vo-Tech became Arkansas State University at Beebe/Newport. Information on the school’s website, asun.edu, shows that in 2000, the Arkansas Board of Higher Education approved Arkansas State University at Newport [ASUN] to be its own, standalone campus.

“We just learned earlier this month that ASU-Newport has been ranked as the top two-year college in Arkansas by BestColleges.com,” Allen said.

Allen, who has been executive director of the chamber since 2002, said many seeds for future projects have been planted in the past.

“They are all beginning to sprout at once,” she said. “We are very blessed here that we have many organizations working together for the betterment of Newport and Jackson County. It’s not just the chamber. … It’s the city of Newport, the Newport Economic Development Commission, the Downtown Revitalization and Improvement Volunteer Effort (DRIVE), the Newport-Jackson County Industrial Development Bond Board, Moving Jackson County Forward, the Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., the Newport Industrial Development Association and the Jackson County Community and Economic Development Agency.

“There are many key players, but we all get along with each other,” she said. “We are all working toward the same goal, … and we are having a lot of fun, too.”

Allen said many of this year’s chamber projects focus on the revitalization of downtown Newport, including the current construction of the downtown park that will feature a veterans memorial and an amphitheater, which is called the Terry Scoggins Memorial Stage.

“Terry Scoggins was a member of our downtown revitalization group and a great supporter of music events,” Allen said. “He passed away five years ago. He was with Frank A. Rogers Co., which is the contracting company that also constructed the stage.”

Allen said the downtown park, which is being designed by Mesa Landscape Architects of Little Rock and will be named at a later date, should be completed in late spring or early summer, with the veterans memorial being dedicated either Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

Chamber projects also focus on tourism. Allen said the PortFest Rollin’ on the River Festival is set for June 9 and 10 at Jacksonport State Park, followed by the 19th annual Depot Days Festival, set for Sept. 29 and 30 in downtown Newport. She also mentioned the annual the Delta Visual Arts Show, which was held in February in downtown Newport.

Allen also said the Rock ’n’ Roll Highway 67 Museum, at 201 Hazel St. in the same building as the chamber and the Newport Economic Development Commission, attracts visitors from all over the world.

Allen said the chamber recognized several individuals and organizations for their efforts in 2016. She and members of the chamber’s board of directors introduced the following award recipients at the banquet:

• The Community Pride Award was presented to the Arkansas Department of Correction.

Allen said this award recognizes an individual or group that has contributed to the beautification of the community. She said crews from the prison have helped complete demolition work of old buildings in Newport and have cleaned and palletized bricks from some of the buildings to be repurposed in the new downtown park. Workers are also provided for the Newport Recycling Center.

• The Ambassador Award was presented to David Black of Newport Cable 15 TV.

Mark Manning, president of the 2016 chamber board of directors, said this award is given to a person who is an outstanding advocate for the community. Manning said Black is “a strong Greyhound supporter” and has a positive attitude and enthusiasm for the community, “promoting the culture and the people that make Newport special.”

• The Small Business Award was presented to Miller-Newell Engineers Inc.

Kevin Pearce, 2017 chamber board vice president, said this engineering consultant company participates “in tourism efforts, historic preservation, industrial development — they are always ready to help in any area that improves Newport.”

• The Large Business Award was presented to Unity Health-Harris Medical Center.

“They are loyal to their community by providing quality services and have invested millions of dollars into improvements to their facility,” said Jenna Austin, 2017 chamber board secretary-treasurer.

• The Bright Future Award was presented to Sky-Cap Solutions.

“This honor is given to a relatively new business that has shown great progress and is well on its way to a very successful future,” said Tara Salinas, 2017 chamber board president. “This business opened their doors in Newport in 2015 and gave their customers new, local options for a variety of technology needs.”

• The Outstanding Citizen Award was presented to Jim S. Gowen Sr., chairman of the board for Merchants and Planters Bank.

Allen said this award “is presented to an individual who truly embodies everything a town looks for in a model citizen.”

She said Gowen volunteers his time, donates his money and is a constant advocate for the town he “clearly loves.”

“There is no doubt how this citizen feels about Newport and Jackson County,” Allen said. “He is a man who truly ‘invests’ in our town, and we know that we can ‘bank’ on him when it comes to promoting Newport.”

Three other awards were announced during the chamber banquet.

Matthew Davis, Jackson County Cooperative Extension Service agent, presented the 2016 Jackson County Farm Family of the Year — the Donald Lewellyn family of Newport, which includes his son, Michael Lewellyn, and grandson, Quake Lewellyn, and their families.

Ward Massey, chairman of the Jackson County Council on Tourism, presented the Friend of Tourism Award to Ed Williams of Newport “in appreciation for his energy and dedication in the promotion of tourism in Jackson County.”

Henry H. Boyce, director and promoter of the Depot Days Festival, presented the Depot Days Award to Sharon Templeman of Newport and her sister, Linda Thurman Wilcox of Bryant, “in recognition for years of support as loyal fans of the Depot Days Festival.”

For more information on the Newport Area Chamber of Commerce, visit newportarchamber.org or call (870) 523-3618.

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