Letter to the Editor

Blytheville Chamber director discouraged by newspaper piece

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Dear Editor:

Discouraging—that is one word that describes the recent piece written by Chris Wessel regarding Jonesboro moving forward or backward.

Discouraging to the neighboring community of Blytheville, that is. Over the years, the Jonesboro Sun occasionally has published letters from citizens who are critical of Blytheville.

The Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce has never responded to such commentaries, given that the public is entitled to its voice. This time, however, the article has come from the Sun itself, a regional news entity, and while the insult to Blytheville may be only opinion, printing it was totally unnecessary.

Blytheville struggles, most certainly. Every community has its challenges, but Blytheville faced two devastating blows.

The mid-80s mechanization of farming ravaged the economy of the true Mississippi River Delta, where throughout history cotton and soybean farming supported much of the population.

In 1992, closure of Eaker Air Force Base triggered another major set-back. For civic leaders, long periods of adjustment, political obstacles and dramatic societal changes impeded progress. Yet today, new leaders are working to strengthen Blytheville, just as Jonesborians endeavor to build a better city.

Northeast Arkansas has made its gains, and many are attributable to the progress of Jonesboro.

But Jonesboro is part of a whole—it does not stand alone. Blytheville residents regularly shop and dine in Jonesboro, contributing substantially to the city’s sales tax revenues.

The growth and sustainability of the Jonesboro health care system—a chief economic driver—is heavily reliant on surrounding communities like Blytheville.

The road also runs eastbound, as many, many Jonesboro residents travel daily to the largest steel-producing region in the country.

Here, they find manufacturing and management jobs at a level of pay and benefits not available in their own city. Indeed, industrial job growth between the two cities is not comparable. Just this week, for instance, Blytheville broke ground for the largest tube mill in the U.S.

Building northeast Arkansas into a state powerhouse means that the region must work together to find mutual ground. Mr. Wessel can disagree with that theory, but perhaps he can see that he could have made his point about Jonesboro growth by confining comparisons to what he views as good examples.

To invoke Blytheville as a bad example is only tearing down a neighbor. The analogy was insensitive but moreover, it reflects a narrow understanding of the tenets of regional development.

I am a native of Jonesboro; I was born at St. Bernard’s, graduated from JHS and ASU.

I am proud of Jonesboro and like everyone else I know I am grateful for its growth and prosperity.

I also am especially proud to live in Blytheville and work with a government and business community that is striving every day to make their town a better place.

Already, we continually fight negative perceptions that are, in fact, not reality. The last thing we need is a large newspaper, supposedly pro-Arkansas, casting us in the negative. We need the support of our neighboring communities, just as they need ours.

On behalf of the Greater Blytheville Area Chamber of Commerce I invite Mr. Wessel to come for a visit and learn some new facts about Blytheville. Here is just one such fact: He will not meet finer people or a harder working community. Not even in Jonesboro.

— Liz Smith

Greater Blytheville Area

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director