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Economic Outlook Luncheon updates county officials

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El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash announced at the Economic Outlook Luncheon Wednesday that the West Hillsboro street shopping plaza has been purchased and will undergo renovations, “possibly adding more venues.”

Hash also discussed the U.S. 82/Hillsboro gateway project, stating that utilities are currently being pushed back or completely relocated on that street in preparation for that corridor.

Hash noted that El Dorado is continuing to have numerous new small businesses added to the city. He also said El Dorado’s revenues are up, “which is a very good sign and very much relief to us to fix things around the city.”

He also said the walking/bike trail around the Lion’s Club will complete its mile extension sometime in October.

“You might not think of the walking and bike path as much of an economic factor, but it shows that a lot of people come to places that have good recreational facilities,” Hash said. “It’s essentially usable right now, but it won’t be completely polished off until probably the middle of next month.”

El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce’s President and CEO Mike Dumas filled in for Union County Judge Mike Loftin, who was at a county judge’s meeting in Little Rock Wednesday.

He said the county is up about 10 percent in revenues, but the most important thing he wanted to discuss was the Union County jail, whose kitchen caught on fire last month.

“They are still assessing the exact cause of that fire,” Dumas said.

Dumas said at previous Union County Quorum Court meetings before the fire, there were discussions of improving the 28-year-old faculty. He said the quorum court members are waiting for what the final figures will be for that renovation, including the damages of the fire, but that renovations are needed.

“It looks like we’re in the million dollar range of improvements and renovations that we need to make to that jail,” Dumas said. “I think the jail committee met a couple of days ago and should have a final figure of what they estimate those improvements to be.”

Also at the luncheon, Bruce Butterfield, president of the Main Street El Dorado Board, said that Wi-Fi is now available on the square in El Dorado.

There are nine hotspots on the square, which are free to all users, and was accomplished through a Main Street revitalization grant and sponsors: Mac’s Tree Service and Murphy USA.

Canfor Southern Pine’s Arkansas Area Manager Derek Ratchford spoke at the luncheon on the economic impact the company has in Union County.

Ratchford said Canfor, the second largest lumber producer in the world, acquired Anthony Forest Products about three years ago.

In Union County, there is the El Dorado Laminating Plant, which has 62 employees and the Urbana plant, which has 150 employees.

Ratchford discussed a fire the Urbana plant experienced about three weeks ago. He said thanks to the Lawson-Urbana Volunteer Fire Department, the fire was contained to only impacting kiln number two. He said that kiln is projected to be replaced by early April and is an “unfortunate setback.”

“The main thing is when you experience an incident like that, no body got hurt,” Ratchford said. “It’s a setback, but it will not define who we are. We’ll move on and we’ll get better and we’ll get smarter and the other facilities will learn from what we found out.”

Ratchford also stated one of their greatest needs in the area is skilled labor. He said that need was their reasoning for donating $25,000 to SouthArk for their new manufacturing training facility.

“We have been working with (SouthArk) as well as lots of local industry for years to get this program put together,” Ratchford said. “It’s something that is a meaningful impact, not only to Canfor, but everybody else in this south Arkansas area, so we’re very grateful.”

Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or krigdon@eldoradonews.com.

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