Stuttgart is growing.
Driving around town will show observers many new businesses that have made the city their home.
Stuttgart’s Economic Development Coordinator, David Leech, who coordinates the economic development between the city of Stuttgart, the Chamber of Commerce, the SIDC and Stuttgart Unlimited, recently gave the city’s Rotary International Club a rundown on the town’s developmental status and the businesses that are locating to Stuttgart.
Anyone who takes a drive down Main Street will notice that the former Young Insurance Agency, located at 119 S. Main, is now a retail store.
“I may be wrong on this, but if you ship stuff back to Dillard’s or J.C. Penney’s, they don’t put that merchandise back in stock, they sell it off to somebody,” Leech said. “This is supposed to be what this store is going to do, and most of their sales are on the Internet.”
When Mayn-Mart closed its doors, Coker Hampton saw it as an opportunity to open those doors back up.
“The idea is they are going to move Coker Hampton Drug in the old Mayn-Mart building,” Leech said. “They will put the gift shop where the drugstore used to be and move the drugstore over to the new part.”
Hampton also added handicap accessibility and a new parking lot.
“They took the trees down,” Leech said. “It is such an improvement on that spot.”
The old downtown shoe store will be home to an antique furniture store, according to Leech. The Ward TV building will be home to Polka Dots and the Social Shop.
“It will leave us with those two buildings vacant, but I think it will be easy to fill,” Leech said.
Brother’s Realty moved from the Standard Ice Company building to what used to be Emery Way Photography. Bancorp South is under construction, adding additions to their establishment.
“They have already started on their second floor,” Leech said. “They are remodeling that and will move the trust department to the second floor.”
Leech said that they will also tear down the north side of the bank where the Trust Department is at now and put drive-thru windows in off of Main Street.
Driving up Main Street, passersby will notice that Cajun Bistro is still standing at 1919 S. Main — but not for long.
According to Leech, Arby’s will tear it down and put their new store there next year. Another empty restaurant is the old Pizza Hut, which is owned by Michael Retzer, who also owns McDonald’s.
“I think his plans are if you’re willing to come in there with a restaurant and redo it and make it look really nice, then he will let you do it,” Leech said. “If not, he will probably take the old Pizza Hut to the ground, then that property will be available.”
The new Pizza Hut sits in a newly-built establishment at 210A W 22nd. Next to it is a vacancy for another business.
“We have had a couple of bites on it,” Leech said. “Hadn’t got anybody lined up on it yet, but I’m hoping something comes on in there because it’s a beautiful building.”
Across the street, the old Subway building stands available for rent. Burger King, which has struggled since opening, has made changes.
“They started off on a bad foot,” Leech said. “They got it together now and it takes time to come back.”
One new business that hasn’t struggled so far is Sutherlands, which is drawing in crowds from surrounding towns.
“They’re coming up here from Brinkley and DeWitt,” Leech said. “You can just draw a circle, they’re coming in from everywhere.”
TRU Hotel, which has been open for almost a year, is also a success story. Hotel occupancy is filled to capacity on most days during the week and on the weekends during special events that draw visitors in from other areas.
Besides businesses, residential developments are also in the works.
“We’ve got a developer right now and we’re hoping we will get a new subdivision south of the college,” Leech said, adding that those houses will run $140,000 to $150,000.
Leech knows affordable housing is an issue in Stuttgart and hopes that with the new development, homeowners living in a house and looking to upgrade will do so, which will open up a home for someone else to live in.
Leech is also looking into modular homes that are factory built and delivered. These homes would fit on some of the empty lots around town. These 1,000-to-1100-square-foot homes are set down and then bricked around the bottom.
“All over town, the city has torn down over 100 houses,” Leech said. “Think about it. It already has water, sewer and streets. Now that’s where you get affordable housing. The homes do not include wiring, plumbing and walls, but Leech feels they are worth looking into.”
According to Leech, over half of Stuttgart is in the flood zone, and building in those areas would require flood insurance.
“This is causing a big problem and keeping us from going back into some of these areas,” he said.
On the north end of town at the intersection of Highway 63 and D & N Road sit the Mallard Point Apartments with 42 units, which, according to Leech, all but two units are occupied.
“It’s a great facility with great management and room to build 40 more,” Leech said.
Across the street from MirTech Harvest Center on Highway 63, which opened last year and sells agriculture equipment, are paved driveways, which will lead up to 29 cabins.
“They’re going back like it used to be where you can drive your hunting vehicle up against it,” Leech said. “These are out of state investors. All of their permits are done.”
Another project Leech is working on is another solar plant in Stuttgart.
Stratton Seed’s Solar Plant has performed better than expected, and Leech recognizes the investment now will pay off in the long run.
“I am trying to get a meeting with Producers and Riceland right now,” he said. “They’re going to change the law and if we’re going to do it, we need to do it now.”
Leech said that buying into the solar plant, customers get a credit on their electric bill for the amount of energy it produces.
“We can build this solar plant and it will pay for itself in 7.5 years,” Leech said.
Governor Asa Hutchinson came up with opportunity zones, and Stuttgart was considered one in the state of Arkansas. The opportunity zone runs from the overpass down Michigan and out past Mack’s Sports Shop.
“The way it works, if you just sold a business with a big gain and you had to pay capital gain on it, you won’t have to pay the tax if you come back and invest that money in the opportunity zone,” Leech said. “If you keep it for 10 years, you don’t owe federal taxes or state taxes and you just saved 27 percent is what it amounts to in taxes.”
With so much opportunity, Stuttgart has the potential to meet the needs of their residents and visitors.
“We think it’s going to be really good for our town,” Leech said. “We think we are going to be able to get people in here and stay here.”
Sixty-five percent of the people who work in Stuttgart drive in from another town. There are over 500 jobs available in Stuttgart, including Lennox, which is hiring for 250 positions, and Producers, which has 20 open positions, according to Leech.
“We got a tremendous amount of people who work here but we are still running on 65 percent who don’t live here,” Leech said.
Leech hopes that, sooner than later, the supply and demand will push the wages up as new residential areas are built so people will not just work here, but choose to live here.
Eplunus Colvin is the editor of the Stuttgart Daily Leader, a sister publication to The Commercial.