Representatives of Benton Area Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the city of Benton, Benton School District and Saline Memorial Hospital came together Wednesday for the first Benton Summit.
The event was held in the media room at Benton High School.
The theme for the summit was "Opening Doors." It was structured as an event to educate the community on the measures being taken by the four featured entities toward mutual cooperation.
Approximately 140 community residents attended.
The four featured speakers at the event were: Gary James, executive director of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce; Benton Mayor David Mattingly; Dan Jordan, acting superintendent of the Benton School District; and Bob Trautman, chief executive officer of Saline Memorial Hospital.
Each speaker discussed its particular entity's goals and vision for the future with an emphasis toward unifying efforts to promote growth for the residents of Benton and the surrounding areas of Saline County.
Mattingly posted this question to the group: "How do we grow without burdening residents with taxes?"
He said, "There's only one way. It's all about economy. It's all about bringing commerce to the city."
Mattingly pointed to the passage of the events center bond issue in November 2011 as an indication that the residents of Benton are ready for change.
"The November election tells us that it's time to do something different in this town. Benton reached a point where we weren't competitive. The election showed that residents are willing to invest in the city and create an atmosphere and attitude that things can change."
Additionally, Mattingly pointed to an effort that began in early 2011 to bring a four-year degree program to the UALR-Benton Center.
"With the efforts of many people in this city, the degree program is now a reality. Economic development and higher education go hand-in-hand." said Mattingly.
The Benton School Board recently voted to purchase the First Security Bank building in Downtown Benton in order to move the central administration office from its current location on River Street. The sale included traded school district properties, including the current UALR Benton Center facility, which previously served as Benton Junior High and later as Westside Junior High. C.W. Lewis Stadium is also included in the agreement
Mattingly spoke to the role the stadium has played in the history of Benton.
"We can't walk away from the past," he said while displaying a conceptual drawing of a new UALR Center facing Market Street with the current slope of the home side bleachers being part of a walkway leading to a round area.
"This round area will be the C.W. Lewis Museum." said Mattingly. "There will be weather-proof cabinets in which will be placed memorabilia and items commemorating the stadium and the role it played in Benton history."
Input from the community will be used to determine the particular items will be placed in the cabinets.
Regarding the future of Benton, Mattingly said, "Sitting still is no longer an option. We have an opportunity to create change, not for the people in this room, but for the children and grandchildren of the people in this room."
"When Gary James called me and asked me to come to a meeting, I wasn't sure what to expect." said Jordan. The meeting to which Jordan referred was the planning meeting for the Benton Summit. "But when I sat down at the table and saw the passion for this city by the people in the room, I got excited. I felt honored to be part of the group that had hold of the same rope, pulling Benton in a unified direction."
Jordan spoke of the education being afforded to students in the district and presented charts related to the achievements of the district. Under the heading "Benton Schools Accolades 2010-2011," Jordan informed the group that the district had earned numerous honors, including the following:
•No. 1 ranking statewide in End of Course Algebra, No. 1 ranking statewide in fourth-grade literacy, No. 2 ranking statewide in seventh-grade science, No. 2 ranking statewide in eighth-grade literacy, No. 3 ranking statewide in fourth- and fifth-grade math, Arkansas Administrator of the Year Sue Shults, State Championship in High School Quiz Bowl,
•State Championship in seventh-grade Destination Imagination, State Championship in Dance and Cheerleading, 26 advanced placement scholars, AAA Academic Champion Cheerleaders, State Championship in Choir, State Championship in Cheerleading, State Championship Runner-Up in Dance Team, First Division ratings in Band and Choral programs, ROTC Program recognized as Honor Unit of Distinction, and 6A South Conference All Sports Award (16 sports, five conference championships, three runners-up).
In addition, Jordan compared the value of scholarships earned in the district.
"During the 2010-11 school term, $3.8 million in scholarships were awarded to students in the district. In the 2011-12 school term just completed, a total of $5.1 million in scholarships were awarded. That's phenomenal. It's an indicator of the quality education available to the students of the district which is provided by the hard work and dedication of the teachers and staff we have.
The 4,618 students of the district are served by a total of 517 employees. The district budget for 2011-12 was $37 million.
Jordan also stated that the 2011-12 scores had not come in to the district yet, but that he suspects "the scores will show that we had our best year ever."
"Saline Memorial Hospital will continue to maintain a local identity with no outside ownership." said Trautman. "The hospital can meet 80 percent of the needs of the patients in Saline County."
In order to increase this percentage, Trautman said a community assessment is currently being conducted to determine how the hospital can address the areas of concern.
"We serve 36,000 patients annually. We have 180 active physicians practicing in our system."
Trautman spoke to the impact the facility has on the local economy. "Saline Memorial Hospital has an annual payroll of $32,729,246. The average hourly rate of our employees is $22.76. This filters out to local businesses and families." The system has a total of 998 employees divided among categories of full-time, part-time and as-needed status. Three employees have 40-plus years' experience and 62 have 20-plus years.
"We will be presenting the results of the community assessment when it becomes available,"he said. "We will also be using the information as part of a strategic planning meeting in July with the leadership of the hospital. We will take what we learn to plan the future of the facility."
Trautman pointed to quality awards the hospital has received. The Governor's Quality Award was presented to the hospital for the fifth year in a row.
Saline Memorial was named an Exemplar Status in Total Joint Care by the institute for Healthcare Improvement for developing and implementing practices that reduce surgical-site infections. Trautman also referred to the hospital's recent partnership with Arkansas Heart Hospital.
"This partnership will help improve cardiac services at the hospital and help keep care local as much as possible for those patients who might otherwise have to go to Little Rock for treatment."
"It's time to work together as a community and use partnership-based planning to move our community forward. I'm excited about the good things happening in Benton." said James.
"We all need to have fun enjoying our city and taking it to the next level. Exciting things are happing. The events center is coming with groundbreaking on July 3.
"The UALR program expansion will be a boon to Downtown Benton and the entire county. We just need to join together to make things happen."
James told the group that the job of the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce is to promote the city and the businesses located within it.
"We can do this by using partnership-based planning. That is why we decided to have this summit. We wanted to show that these four groups (Benton Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Benton, Benton School District and Saline Memorial Hospital) are pulling and planning together to make things happen. Instead of working independently. We know that if we work together, we can share a common vision for the city."
The summit concluded with statements from each of the speakers. Another meeting aimed at how businesses can market their products and services is planned for June 25 at the Northside Church of Christ.
Interested individuals may contact the Benton Area Chamber of Commerce at 501-315-8272.