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Chamber president gives update on local economy

Posted on October 25, 2023

By Caitlan Butler
Managing Editor/El Dorado News-Times

Bill Luther, president and CEO of the El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce, gave a brief update on the local economy during the Chamber’s second Economic Outlook Luncheon of the year on Wednesday.

Unemployment reached its lowest level ever earlier this year, just three years after reaching near-historic highs, he said.

Referring to a graph that showed the unemployment rate in Union County over time, Luther pointed out several spikes in unemployment correlated with the 2010 closure of the Pilgrim’s Pride plant and the COVID-19 pandemic, the latter of which was followed by a steep decline.

“We recovered really rapidly. In March of ’23, unemployment dropped before 4% for the first time in history,” Luther said. “It fell, in April, to 3.5%. Then there was an uptick of unemployment that occurs in June and July almost every year, because the parents of school children – one of the parents having to come home and take care of children.”

As the designated economic development organization for both El Dorado and Union County, the Chamber of Commerce is the first point of contact for businesses interested in establishing operations locally. Since 2019, the Chamber has been involved in 167 projects, according to information Luther provided at the luncheon.

This year alone, between projects incentivized by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and those undertaken by the Chamber alone, 48 different economic development projects have started, and 36 have either materialized or are ongoing.

Most of the economic activity this year has happened in the third quarter, when the Chamber started work on four forest products projects and two each chemical industry and food and beverage projects, along with two existing industry expansions, four commercial development projects, one housing development, seven restaurant projects, five manufacturing projects and one local business expansion. Only one project started in the third quarter fizzled out, and seven have been completed.

“Don’t think because you don’t know something about it that it must not be happening. The Arkansas Economic Development Commission incentivized projects are confidential, and in many cases, the state requires us to sign non-disclosure agreements.” Luther said.

Luther also highlighted the growing lithium industry in south Arkansas, pointing to Standard Lithium’s announcement last week that it would move forward with building a commercial plant in El Dorado.

He concluded his update by opening the floor to Kevin Bourgeois, vice president of operations and co-founder of Lapis Energy, who provided an update on the carbon capture project the company is undertaking at LSB Industries. Bourgeois said the company is still in the permitting phase of the project and in the meantime is completing design and engineering plans for it.