Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington told members of Pine Bluff's Small Business Association Wednesday at their monthly meeting that the city is on a positive trend, but in order to keep things moving, residents are going to have to step up and chip in even more.
One thing that Washington noted was the number of young business owners who are either coming to or who are returning to Pine Bluff to open businesses.
“I see a major effect, almost like a domino effect,” Washington told PBSBA members gathered at Harbor Oaks Golf Club and Restaurant.
“I was talking with one young lady who her and her husband have moved to Pine Bluff. This couple came from Dallas and they were telling another friend of theirs about how happy they are that they returned. They have not regretted for one minute that they came back to Pine Bluff.
“There are other couples that they know who are now considering coming back. I just think this is going to have a major, powerful impact of bringing in the population that we need that can truly rebuild and sustain the city and regrowth over the years. It is going to be the group that is 30 and under or 40 and under that will be the ones to be the motivators and encouragers of the younger people coming out of college to keep them here in the community. I believe that this group will have a strong and powerful impact, and I am seeing it with one citizen returning after another.”
Washington said that if Pine Bluff is going to be saved, then residents have to save it themselves. She said she is already seeing things improve with the help from the Pine Bluff Small Business Association members, Go Forward Pine Bluff and others. She said it helps her to do her job as mayor with the vision and goals she has for the city.
“It helps me because I see strength and promise in that,” she said. “I feel like if everybody is rolling their sleeves up with a passion and vision of what we can make this city, then it makes my job easier because we get that back up and support from them. I think it is going to make all of the difference in the world as we move forward, and it is going to become stronger. The impact will become stronger, and we will build momentum as we move forward.”
Washington said there are positive things that the Pine Bluff Small Business Association has done over the past few years that she believes they can continue doing in order to continue help Pine Bluff move in a positive direction.
“If I as a prospective small business person can look around and see there are a number of small businesses within the community that are thriving and that business is being sustained by the businesses within the community, it is going to give me hope and it's going to inspire me to start my business,” Washington said.
“I think that is exactly what is happening. We have people who are coming into Pine Bluff, one who came to me from Texas who is wanting to open a business on Second (Avenue). He said he can see what is happening with us opening doors on Second (Avenue), Main Street, and Barraque Street. As long as we continue to do that, I think it will continue to generate more business. As I've said, building the city up one storefront at a time. As we open one door at a time we will eventually have businesses thriving and we will be going again.”
Washington said that education is one of her top priorities as mayor, and she is working with Southeast Arkansas College, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the local school districts to improve what is offered to the young people of the city.
“As we move forward, I would like to see UAPB and SEARK have a stronger presence in the educational system, meaning in our schools starting all the way from K-12,” Washington said.
“This will help our kids have a passionate desire and aspirations to go to those schools so that training can occur. I was speaking to a fireman with the Pine Bluff Fire Department. He started his career at SEARK. He did two years at SEARK, then did two years at UAPB. He graduated, and now he is one of our finest firefighters.
“I was talking with another young man the other day who has graduated high school, and he was telling me he is now at SEARK. He is going to SEARK because he knows what he wants to do, and SEARK is going to give him that foundation that he needs to boost his career. I feel like with SEARK and UAPB being the educational pillars in our community, we have an educational foundation to move forward. We just need to make sure we are encouraging our kids to use those pillars that are there for them.”
With many additions planned for the city, one question that came up during the meeting dealt the proposed casino here.
The Arkansas Racing Commission has given tentative approval to two new regulations dealing with casino gambling after voters agreed to legalize them last month.
The commission must develop rules for the licensing and operation of up to four new casinos, which can be located at existing racetracks in Hot Springs and West Memphis, and at new sites in Jefferson and Pope counties.
Chief John Berrey of the Quapaw Tribe is the chairman of Downstream Development Authority, which has been selected by leaders in Jefferson County and Pine Bluff to operate a casino here.
Berrey said he wants to start moving dirt immediately after receiving the gaming license. If all goes as planned, he said the casino could be operating next year. A location has not yet been announced.
Washington said she had some concerns about the casino early in the process, but after doing more research and being involved in the early planning stages, she said she is feeling better about what it can bring to the city in regards to jobs and improvements.
“When we started talking about the casino, all I heard from most of the citizens who were opposed to it was the uptick in crime that would come with it,” Washington said.
“I started my research to areas like Tunica and Greenville, Mississippi, and Gary, Indiana, where they have about four casinos in that area, and everybody told me that there was no increase in crime. I went to Shreveport, Louisiana, and everybody told me they did not see an increase in crime. If anything, they saw a decrease because more people went to work, and there was no need for that. I can't see as much of a negative impact as some people see. I think the positive impact will far outweigh any negative impact that the casino initiative can have in Pine Bluff.”
Also at Wednesday's meeting, David Maddox, owner of Father and Son's Clothier in Jefferson Square, spoke about his company, which opened in 1997 and has remained in business since that time. Former Pine Bluff Alderman Bill Brumett led the meeting.