Preparing for the future real estate and retail market was the key topic for the Nov. 7 meeting of the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce. The opening of the new interchange will change Lonoke, both speakers said.

Chamber members were also assured that Waffle House will be locating at Lonoke, however it will be delayed until early 2014.

Keynote speakers were Roger Davenport of RPM Realty and Karen Dill, owner of Dill Real Estate.

Davenport spoke about Lonoke’s rapidly developing real estate market and opportunities to build the community. "I have a vested interest. I live here, I shop here, and I want to see things grow and done right. Not have somebody … put the wrong things in the wrong places," he said.

The new interchange will bring opportunities in Lonoke’s industrial area, Davenport said. "It’s coming. It won’t be long."

The development will get started when wastewater service gets to the area. "The growth, commercially and residential, is going to be incredible," Davenport said, pointing out the development at the current interchange.

Davenport said that although he is licensed for both residential and commercial; he has taken on development of the industrial area as a personal project.

Contacts are being developed worldwide to bring attention to the new area that is soon to open at Lonoke, Davenport said.

Another goal will be to "bring the golf course back to life, somehow," Davenport said. That goal focuses on developing the residential market serving golf, he said.

"We are working on three or four different pieces, industrial, commercial, residential, golf course. I have met with 40 or 50 companies already," Davenport said.

Karen Dill, owner of Dill Real Estate, said records show that residential sales in the area is changing for the better. "We are ahead of our sales from last year. In 2012, 46 houses sold in Lonoke; 58 houses have already been sold in Lonoke for 2013," she said.

There are a number of houses under contract expected to close before the end of the year, Dill said.

"We are excited … about the development of the area of Highway 89," Dill said.

With the opening of the interchange will come more opportunities, Dill said. "The more that we have to offer in this town, the more retail sales are going to grow," she said.

The growing number of new homes is also exciting, Dill said. For too long all Lonoke had to offer were 40-year-old homes, she said.

She offered tips to people planning to sell an older home. "Treat it like a car you want to sell. Clean it up," she said

Executive director John Garner remarked the new interchange is going to change the economy of the area. After several years of fruitless efforts to draw new businesses to the area, he had given up to wait for the completion of the new interchange. "I was tired of an exercise in futility," he said.

Without the interchange, "Nobody would fool with us," Garner said.

Everything will change with the interchange he said.

The new bridge could be open sometime in January, Garner said. The bridge will be in use long before the interchange is open because the old bridge has to be removed before the entrance and exit ramps can be put in, he said.

In other matters, Chamber president Leanne Rich welcomed new members Emma’s Furniture and Wayne McGee; Pizza Pro of Lonoke and Starla Hall; Grand Prairie Center and Renee Robinson; and Roger Davenport of RPM Realty.

Makayla Grady and and Megan Aston gave the Future Business Leaders of America report. At the last football game, members collected more than $300 for Arkansas Children’s Hospital during the Miracle Minute; provided Halloween snacks and treats for teachers; looking forward to helping at MerryThanks; Leadership and Entrepreneur Workshop is scheduled for Nov. 14.

Waffle House area director Barbara Bell told Chamber members that the opening date for the Lonoke Waffle House has been pushed back. "Unfortunately the construction crew has been called off to St. Louis," she said.

"But I promise you, none of you is more excited about us coming [to Lonoke] and getting open than we are," Bell said.

The new date is March 2014, Bell said.

The search for a manager for the Lonoke Waffle House is still under way, Bell said. Beginning salary is mid-$30,000, "But they can easily make in the mid-40s," she said.

Nearer to opening date, Waffle House will be searching for 20 to 30 hourly associates, Bell said. Training will likely be done at the McCain or Cabot Waffle House, she said.

"I put myself through college waiting tables at Waffle House … [Waffle House] is probably the best-kept career secret in Arkansas," Bell remarked.

Little Rock Air Force Base community liaison Lt. Col. Tom Langford, chief of safety for the 19th Airlift Wing, spoke about current events at the base.

There have been few changes since last month although two more new C-130Js have arrived. The base has been averaging about two new "J models" each month as the older C-130s are replaced. Those aircraft were built between the 1960s and 90s, he said.

The base is readying for a visits by Gen. Paul J. Selva, commander of Air Mobility Command (AMC), in about three weeks, and Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Education and Training Command (AETC), in January.

"Those are both huge events and a lot of work, but good visibility as the wings show what they do," Langford said.

Little Rock Air Force Base, the world’s largest C-130 base, and the 19th AW, responsible for conducting worldwide operational missions, are part of AMC; the 314th AW and the Arkansas Air National Guard 189th AW, responsible for training crews to fly C-130s, are part of AETC.

The Air Force Ball, held a week earlier, raised $1,000 for local charities, Langford said.

"Other than that, we are just flying the line, making the base go, and getting the mission done," Langford said.

Garner reminded members that the Lonoke Café has provided the lunches for the meetings, for three months, at no charge to the Chamber. The charge collected for the lunch is applied to paying down the balance on the LED marquee sign.

Garner told of a meeting held at The Depot by the Soldiers for Christ Motorcycle Ministry that drew a number of out-of-town visitors.

"They said they had a great time here," Garner said. The visit was an economic boost for the city, "And, they are coming back next year because they said everybody here was so friendly."

Garner thanked Remington Arms for the "very good, very profitable" Shoot-For-Fun held at the Remington Gun Club. "We are not the only ones they help in this community, by far. But they really go aboveboard to help us."

Garner reminded the members of the upcoming MerryThanks, set for 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., Nov. 24. Currently, 12 businesses are participating, and there is time for more to join.

The Junior Civic League will have Santa’s Workshop at The Depot for MerryThanks. "The youngsters really pile in here," Garner said.

Leanna Rich announced Emma Walls as the Chamber of Commerce Everyday Hero for November. Each month a member is nominated by other members as an Everyday Hero for exemplary community service.

Rich said Walls has many times "gone the extra mile" to help families in need, and given time and money to community organizations such as Lonoke Book Club, Lonoke County Museum, Open Arms Shelter, Exceptional School, and the Family Resource Center.

She is active in the Century League, Alumni Association, and has promoted improvements in the community and schools.