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Projects Highlighted at Quarterly Gathering

Posted on May 8, 2013

Originally published in the El Dorado News-Times on May 9, 2013.

By: David Showers

After appearing in El Dorado, Norphlet and Smackover, the itinerant quarterly gathering of public and private sector leaders stopped in Strong Wednesday at the First Baptist Church.

Sponsored by Clean Harbors, the fifth El Dorado Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Luncheon featured eight speakers who provided updates on their respective projects. Chamber President and CEO Henry Florsheim said he was pleased with the turnout of 65 people, considering the distance attendees had to travel.

They heard from David Hernandez, the plant manager of Therma-Flite, which will celebrate its one-year anniversary in El Dorado next month. Hernandez reported that the California-based manufacturer of wastewater sludge dryers, which convert sludge into useful materials such as potting soil, has left a larger economic imprint than it intended

Hernandez said the 39 people who?ve been hired eclipsed the 15 jobs for which Therma-Flite initially planned, adding that those workers are paid an average wage of $18 an hour.

He said the economic benefit has accrued to other businesses, as Therma-Flite has paid $650,000 for parts and materials to vendors across the county and state.

Florsheim said the project is an exemplar of how public/private partnerships can spur economic growth. The city?s 1-cent economic development sales tax paid for the construction of the office building and manufacturing plant, with Therma-Flite leasing the 40,000-square-foot facility rent-free for three years. It has the option of continuing the lease or purchasing the facility after five years.

“The city provided the up-front investment that really kick started things,? Florsheim said. “That?s what economic development is about, catalyzing things that provide an economic benefit for the area.?

Continuing in that vein, the president and executive director of El Dorado Festivals and Events updated the audience on plans to develop a theater and arts district on the southern end of downtown.

The city committed $9.02 million from the economic development tax for the $50 million-plus project. Austin Barrow showed renderings of what architects envision for the district. It entails public restrooms and a police substation at Oil Heritage Park, and an outdoor amphitheater at the southeast corner of the El Dorado Conference Center. Barrow said the area?s sunken topography lends itself to an amphitheater setting.

Plans include a large pavilion for a farmer?s market, modeled after the large covering at Little Rock?s River Market. But Barrow pointed to the expansion of the Rialto Theater as central to the project?s realization. The $25 million expansion calls for a larger lobby and an outdoor area for picnics and concerts.

Barrow said the project is in the conceptual phase, but the tangible part of the process is in the offing.

“We?re starting to put pen to paper to see what our future looks like,? he said. “We?re hoping to have several big announcements soon.?

New members:

? The board of directors approved the membership of Bill?s Marine at 1100 East Main St.

Upcoming events:

? Chick-Fil-A Leadership Conference ? from 8-3:30 p.m. May 10 at the First Baptist Church. A one day leadership event broadcast live from Atlanta, Ga.

? Bugs, Bands & Bikes ? May 10-11 at Union Square.

? Union County Job Fair sponsored by Martin Lubricants ? from 9-2 p.m. May 14 at the El Dorado Conference Center. The chamber is hosting the second annual job fair. Companies interested in renting a booth can call Lori Coke at 863-0010 or email her at Booth rental is $50 for chamber members and $100 for non chamber members. Admission is free for job seekers.

? Girls Learning About Math and Science Conference (GLAMS) ? May 15 at South Arkansas Community College.

? Healthy Women Event: Wine, Cheese, Botox & Me ? from 6-7 p.m. May 16 on the seventh floor of the Union Building. Contact Information: Rachel Scriber MCSA 864-3245.

? Business After Hours hosted by El Dorado Golf & Country Club ? from 5-6:30 p.m. May 21 RSVPs are not required.

? Senior Symphony ? from 2-3:30 p.m. May 25 at the West Side Baptist Church. Admission is free.

? Symphony on the Square ? from 7:30-9 p.m. May 25 at Union Square. Admission is free.

? UCAPS Spay-Neuter Clinic ? from 8-5 p.m. May 27-29 at the Eppinette Warehouse at 505 E. Pony.

? South Arkansas Networking Luncheon Sponsored by SeaPort Airlines ? from 11:30-1 p.m. May 28 at the El Dorado Golf & Country Club. More information is available by calling the chamber at 863-6113 or at “