The Sevier County Rural Development Authority (RDA) met Feb. 5 in the Tres Agaves board room on the campus of UA Cossatot in De Queen. Members in attendance were Gary Golden, Dick Tallman, Ray Wilson, Crystal Rankin, and Chair Dr. Steve Cole.
The group briefly took up new business by approving the minutes and the most recent financial report and voting to hire New Growth Solutions to perform grant research, looking for economic development funding opportunities for RDA and Sevier County. The main conversation during the meeting centered around new housing development in Sevier County. For this conversation, the RDA was joined by Lisa Taylor, Director of Economic Development for Sevier County, John Baxter, of Baxter Family Investments, Trey Gage, Housing Specialist for Simmons Bank in Fort Smith, and Eddie Halter, plant manager of Pilgrim’s Pride in DeQueen.
The focus of the discussion was how this community could leverage resources to provide attractive investments for single-family dwellings in Sevier County, citing that this is one major way to improve our local industry employee pool and grow the economy.
According to John Baxter, “There is real opportunity for affordable housing in Sevier County, and with groups like the RDA, the city of DeQueen, and the county all pulling the same direction, this can really work. The beauty of the model I would propose for Sevier County is that all the construction is performed by local sub-contractors, which is another plus for the economy”.
After the group heard Halter’s concerns for our area to have more family housing opportunities, it was agreed that Baxter would develop some scenarios where affordable single family dwellings could be built in Sevier County. A driving force behind these conversations is that industries like Pilgrim’s Pride offer jobs that pay $12 and $13 dollars per hour, but for employees to relocate here, there needs to be affordable housing. This same scenario applies to all existing and perhaps future industries.
During the discussions, RDA Chair Dr. Steve Cole mentioned that for any economic development plan to work, even housing, there must be a broad-based steady stream of funding or efforts like these would tend to fade with time. The meeting adjourned agreeing to revisit housing at their next meeting.