With the Primary just around the corner on May 22, candidates for Lonoke Mayor and State Representative for District 14 participated in a forum, during the May 3 Lonoke Chamber of Commerce meeting.

With no Republican challenger, the Primary will decide who will serve as Lonoke’s next mayor.

Ryan Biles served as moderator for the forum. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer each of the three questions asked, which were directly related to Lonoke, the Chamber and the business community.

Lonoke Mayor Wayne McGee and challenger Jim Bailey took the open round of questioning. Biles asked the candidates if elected, describe how the city government, chamber and members of Lonoke 2022 would work together for future growth of the town.

“I think it’s viable the Lonoke city council, the Lonoke administration and the chamber form together as partners,” Bailey said. “Actually, the chamber is the first contact for anybody coming into the city. The city’s responsibility is to provide all the information to the chamber, so that they can give the right information when they have a request, for a business coming in or anyone else coming into the town. So it’s viable that the chamber and city work very closely together, to accomplish that.”

“As for the city, I’ve worked well with Hannah and Mr. Garner before that,” McGee said. “We’ve brought a lot of new businesses into town. We’ve [the city] hired Thrive out of Helena. Spent $30,000 to better advertise our community [through brochure and a new website]. We’ve been working with the beautification, just got the flower pots put out. I can’t stress how well working together, and I know that’s hard sometimes but if everybody would just stay together, you can get a lot more done. We’ve made a lot of strides here. We got the tax passed in November, that I feel like will be one of the greatest things that will ever happen here.”

“If privileged to be mayor, how and when will you reconfigure the community committees, such as the budget and finance committee, the community center committee and the Lonoke industrial development commission,” Biles asked next.

“Basically on all the different committees and all, which is the responsibility of the mayor to set those committees up, that you state what the projects are, what the wants are and to have knowledgeable people to participate in that and bring actually some resources to those programs. Because those programs are vital. Especially with finance and all, because it’s so critical to have a good financial base in a program and projects to make the city progress. The community center, I’d have to say is one of the better, it’s a well-balanced programs. They have their own board of directors. They basically do an excellent job with the community center. Others, I would just have to look and see what going on and approach those problems as they come around. You need a good base to answer those problems because it is important if someone comes to planning and development and all that, that we have good firm answers and all to present to those people. We need to work with them to advance that as much as possible.”

“I’d already talked to Mike Brown about a month or two ago, [about] instead of having the city having a board, because anytime you have anything with the city, it demands those people live in the city limits,” McGee said. ” They have so many people that live just out of the city limits, that don’t have a say. He was in favor of having a board that he could appoint. He has never done without, but we both agree that would be a much better way to run the center. As for industrial development, I’ve put new people on there. We haven’t had a whole lot to go over in recent months, but I intend to keep working with that. Hopefully we have a lot coming in the near future.”

“How will you interact with the Lonoke Area Chamber of Commerce as well as other area chambers of commerce, and also economic entities within our state and the region,” Biles asked as his final question.

“I’ve been on the chamber of commerce here,” Bailey said. “I’ve been a member of the Carlisle chamber of commerce and the England chamber of commerce and the Cabot chamber of commerce. I’ve had a diverse of all the chambers of commerce in Lonoke County and I’ve participated in a lot of meetings and stuff. That’s really when you see the partnership with all the chambers. For economic development, I’ve been in some meetings through the leadership training. The key thing is you have a program together when an industry or retail economic or anybody that is coming in, that you have firm facts and possibly commitments that the city will support them and be able to operate and survive in the city.”

“I try to keep in touch with everyone,” McGee said.” I work close with our chamber. Within the past two months, I’ve been to the Little Rock chamber of commerce. They came down with economic development. They tried to get us in with a manufacturer deal that they were a little late getting in on. But we studied every bridge load, every width of everything, height requirements, anything you can possibly imagine. What we went over, we put the intersection in out on [highway] 89. Soil studies, anything they may possibly need about our areas to develop. I get together with the mayors of Lonoke county once in a while. We discuss issues, each other’s problems. Its help a lot to work through some things. It may not be quite the same, but it helps. I try to talk to as many people as I can. Developers. Surveys with Harps grocery. Anything to try and get some business in here. The magic number seems to be $6,000 to get a lot of companies in here, but we’ve still brought a lot in. We welcome working with anybody, and I will do the best I possibly can.”

Republican candidates for State Representative District 14, Rep. Roger Lynch and challenger Chris Jones took their turns, following the Mayor forum. The first question to them was what they each planned to do as far as advocating for Lonoke, the business community and local aquaculture and agriculture industries.

“I would bring to Lonoke, as I assist with the whole district, I will assist with bringing new businesses here,” Jones said. “We have empty buildings. We have people leaving Lonoke. When I was growing up in this town, it was a lot more prosperous than it is now. Change has got to happen.”

“Where there is an opportunity, I will contact the appropriate people and say here look, here is an opportunity and here is who you need to contact,” Lynch said. So I think I can help the individual businesses here in Lonoke if they have a need. Especially if it’s legislative or some minor change to a statute that needs to be done. I’d be more than happy to have that bill drafted and sponsor it through the legislation. “

“Describe your plan for interacting with the chamber board of directors and what you plan to do on the chamber’s behalf to engage and support our members,” Biles asked next.

“Whatever suggestions you have and whatever issues you have in the town, you bring to me,” Jones said. “You can contact me anytime. I will answer. It won’t just be me coming in here and trying to push being a politician and then you never see me again. I live in this town. You would have access to me at all times.”

“I’ve very supportive of new startups,” Lynch said. “I’m very supportive of being able to keep existing businesses in operation. I’m on the governor’s task force for reducing red tape around occupational licensing. We’re working through that now, to try and make that more flexible for people, so that we can have more people working. Hopefully we will create an environment where people can thrive and be successful.”

Lastly, Biles asked what funding opportunities they would seek to make available for the achievement of the goals, stated in the Lonoke 2022 strategic action plan.

“I would definitely communicate with other areas to see what is allowing them to grow the way they are growing,” Jones said. “I would bring some ideas here. We have to work as a unit. We have to work together to bring this town back to the way it was. As a state representative, I don’t have a business. The people are going to be my business. I will spend at least 70 more hours, on a constant basis, trying to build District 14 and Lonoke. As much as I can.”

“Your local CAPDD will write grant and loan requests,” Lynch said. “Y’all need to utilize this facility. Once that request is written and goes through to Arkansas Rural Development group, I would be more than happy to champion any of those requests and help you with the system up there, as much I can.”

In other business

Building Bridges Job Developer Paige Buffington spoke to chamber members about their supported employment program. The program, which is a partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, is a service to help individuals with disabilities gain and maintain jobs in the workforce. She said it allows these individuals to earn competitive income, pay taxes and work alongside others in the community.

According to Buffington, the supported employment department supports individuals in every aspect of work from vocational assessment and job development, to on the job training and follow along support, as needed. Employers must be willing to hire a qualified individual for a position that pays at least minimum wage, provides at least 15 hours of work per week and orientation to the individual along with clear expectations of the job duties.

Building Bridges Development and Community Services Inc. is dedicated to promoting independence and acceptance, by partnering with and empowering individuals with intellectual development disabilities and their families to participate and contribute within their communities. For more information, call 501-438-5253 or email pbuffington@lonokexs.com.

As tradition, there will be no June or July Lonoke Chamber of Commerce meeting. The next meeting will be at noon, Aug. 3 at the depot. Lunch will be catered by Panda House.