Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.


The speaker didn’t use prepared notes for his presentation. And the hearer who writes this weekly economic development column didn’t take any notes. The resulting dilemma: remembering enough of the speech to adequately relay its positive message.


Arkansas Democrat-Gazette senior editor Rex Nelson was a thoroughly entertaining speaker at the annual meeting of the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce that was held at Pine Bluff Country Club on Jan. 25.


Nearly 200 people were in attendance for the event, which became part community pep rally after dinner with Nelson as the cheerleader.


When asked afterwards for a copy of his spoken words, Nelson replied that he’d put a few statistics on a piece of paper but the speech itself was extemporaneous. That means he was just talking to his audience. Making off-the-cuff remarks, if you will. He was simply entertaining them from a storehouse of personal experiences and memories. Talking Arkansas history and business leaders, and about how Pine Bluff is most assuredly poised to make a comeback.


“Everybody loves to hear a comeback story,” he told the receptive crowd. “I believe so many good things are happening in Pine Bluff that you will be the comeback story very soon,” he proclaimed. “And I believe the entire state is rooting for you.” And the delighted audience responded with a round of applause.


Nelson used those encouraging pronouncements as a follow-on to his recitation of a thumbnail history of economic development in Arkansas. He pointed out that South Arkansas was the booming sector in the early twentieth century era of agricultural dominance but then the pendulum began swinging toward North Arkansas.


“The pendulum could be about to start swinging again,” he declared to another round of applause.


While complimenting the community on planning strategies and the improvements already underway, Nelson then challenged the group—throwing out a few potential ideas to speed up Pine Bluff’s nascent redevelopment process. His suggestions included working to bring back Pine Bluff’s preeminence in hosting major sporting events (think King Cotton Holiday Classic basketball tourney of the 1980s and 90s), and coordinating all kinds of festivals and events that will draw lots of people to the city.


He also congratulated local business owners and residents for their ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown Pine Bluff, noting that a vibrant central business district with shops, restaurants and entertainment venues is vital to any community - -and especially to a comeback story.


Nelson promised to keep an eye on the revitalization of Pine Bluff. And to tell our story as he travels the state. With his speaking schedule, communication skills and newspaper job, it shouldn’t take long for the entire state to hear about a Pine Bluff comeback.


And a standing ovation sent Nelson on his way.