A steady flow of Southeast Arkansas residents filed through the doors of the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday for the Business Expo, hosted by the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce.

A steady flow of Southeast Arkansas residents filed through the doors of the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday for the Business Expo, hosted by the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce.


"I’m so glad it didn’t rain," Ann Williams, director of the chamber, said Thursday afternoon as she watched the flow of people from her station just inside the doors of the convention center. "It makes all the difference in the world, because not as many people turn out when it rains."


The day started early. Before the doors to the arena opened for the exhibits, Simmons Bank sponsored the annual expo breakfast, which featured Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas.


This year’s expo chairwoman, Tisha Arnold, who is spokeswoman for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, announced several awards, which included the Most Creative Booth, which went to Pine Bluff Arsenal Recreational Services; Most Informative Booth, Nicholson’s Heating and Air; and the Judge’s Award, which was presented to Fairfield Community Credit Union.


In his address, Zook previewed Issue Three, which will be on the November general election ballot, one of three proposed constitutional amendments referred by the Arkansas General Assembly.


Zook said the proposed amendment deals with economic development and will, he said, "create rules of the road for cities and counties" on how they raise money for economic development and how they can spend it.


He said if the amendment is approved, it would enhance the state’s ability to attract large projects, saying that Arkansas was in the running for a Toyota plant that eventually went to Mississippi and another car plant that eventually went to Texas.


"This would remove the cap that is in place now and allow Arkansas to finance more than one bond issue at a time," Zook said.


He also talked about workforce development, saying that it was extremely important to economic development.


Zook said a skills gap has developed in Arkansas and a number of other states and that there are "jobs that go begging because there are not enough people to fill them."


As an example, Zook said there are 3,000 to 5,000 jobs currently available for diesel technicians or diesel mechanics, paying salaries of $100,000 or more.


"We’ve let ourselves be persuaded that the only path to success is a four-year baccalaureate degree from a college," he said. "I believe a four-year baccalaureate degree is wonderful, but there are jobs that are begging for people that don’t require a four-year degree."


Zook said Wal-Mart is currently advertising for truck drivers, with salaries of $82,000 a year plus benefits.


"There are five to six million jobs that companies can’t fill," he said.


After the breakfast, the exhibits opened and Williams said there were 124 different companies and organizations represented, including 18 that were new this year.


One of the new exhibits was that of Attorney Alex Guynn, a candidate for First Division circuit judge who will face Pine Bluff City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott in the November general election.


"This gives me a chance to meet people personally and talk to them outside of the normal circles," he said. "Plus, something like this is good for the community and for the economy."


Hadden-Scott had her own booth and supporters, one of them retired Pine Bluff Police Officer Robert Treadwell.


"She’s a friend of mine and she asked me to come help her at her booth," said Treadwell, who also retired from the military. "Since I retired, I’ve got a lot of time when I’m not hunting and fishing."


Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Lafayette Woods Jr., who was named as the Chairman’s Club Member of the Year for his participation in events sponsored by the chamber, was also helping man the booth for the sheriff’s office and said the crowd this year was better than he has seen in past years.


Chad Pittillo, chairman of the board for the chamber and who presented the award, said Woods participated in more than 50 events for the chamber.