Searcy community and business leaders are looking for avenues to continue economic development and revive downtown after the natural gas industry that brought a boom to Searcy’s population and economy has “now come and gone,” according to Buck Layne, president of the Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“There’s an effort to revitalize our downtown area, including the Rialto, and a paving project that’s going on as we speak,” Layne said.
The Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce, Searcy Regional Economic Development Corporation and Main Street Searcy are spearheading the effort alongside community members who are serving on a project committee.
Amy Burton, executive director of Main Street Searcy and committee member, said the project includes three main branches — bringing back the Holiday of Lights Festival, reviving the Rialto and beginning the Downtown Beautification Project. The Downtown Beautification Project includes landscaping, adding more efficient parking and making the downtown area more aesthetically appealing for the community, according to Burton.
“I see this project as two-fold, especially looking at the downtown district,” Burton said. “First, we want it to improve the quality of life for the people who live here and give them something to be proud of. Second, it also serves as an economic development tool because having an attractive downtown will certainly look well as we recruit new businesses to come to the area.”
The Chamber of Commerce is also focusing its attention on continuing the steady economic growth the area has experienced through retail, manufacturing and distribution, according to Layne.
Plans for the Searcy City Center, a new shopping center expected to bring approximately six new retail businesses and 300 new jobs to Searcy, are in jeopardy, according to Layne. The company proposing the retail development is looking to gain funding through state and local tax incentives, which, according to the Arkansas Constitution, is only allowed for manufacturing and information technology corporations.
“Short-term, there’s a huge gap because that company is looking for financing and our state constitution prohibits doing what they want the city to do — providing them revenue,” Layne said. “Right now, I’d say it’s probably not going to happen unless something changes, but I don’t anticipate that happening from a constitutional area.”
Regardless, Layne said attention continues to be concentrated on promoting local businesses. Layne noted the unique opportunity presented to smaller businesses for reaching community members and establishing relationships.
“If people know you and treat you right, you’re going to want to come back because people like to be appreciated and they like to do business with their friends,” Layne said. “We are a small town community, and if we don’t support each other, we may regret that in the future.”
Lifelong Searcy resident and freshman Ty Galyan said he values what the city has to offer to its citizens and surrounding communities.
“Regardless of where life takes me, Searcy will always be home,” Galyan said. “I’ve always appreciated the closeness of the community and the opportunities made available to me and my family. I look forward to what changes are underway in the coming years.”