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West Memphis hosts Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Hutchinson tours commu-nity, visitors from around the state see what area has to offer

Governor Asa Hutchinson toured Crittenden County as part of his day at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism at Southland Gaming and Racing. The annual conference was being hosted by the West Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. More than 1,000 tourism officials booked overnight stays for the three day session and to attend, sleep, shop and dine in the area. The governor was no exception.

After addressing the conference the state’s chief executive took a whirlwind tour of the county with his escort, Quorum Court Justice Robert Thorne.

The governor marveled at the computer achievement in West Memphis Schools, then glad handed at the county courthouse and Tacker’s Shake Shack.

Hutchinson also stumped for reelection at a gathering in Proctor. He shared a wide range of topics at the various locations and enjoyed the local southern style hospitality.

The centerpiece of the governor’s business day was the tourism conference and he was pleased with the work of West Memphis CVB Executive Director Jim Jackson, his staff, the Advertising and Promotions Commission, Welcome Center Staff and all the volunteers serving to host meetings. The event featured an appearance by Miss Arkansas Maggie Benton.

“I’ve had a great day here in West Memphis,” said Hutchinson. “You have hosted the state-wide Governor’s Conference on Tourism very well.”

West Memphis played host to the tourism summit for the second time in just the last few years. The Gateway City is home to the largest tourism tax producer in the state at Southland, surpassing Oaklawn in Hot Springs. Geotourism has sprung to life with the city’s development of the Delta River Regional Park, the Big River Crossing, and the Big River Trail running mostly atop the St.

Francis Levee. Hotel expansion in the area is exploding at an unprecedented rate with three new hotels along the Interstate interchange in various stages of planning and construction and two more at the Marion exit on Interstate 55 in Angelo’s Grove. The West Memphis Civic Auditorium and Eugene Woods Civic Center have undergone renovations and the venues have begun bringing in visitors and meetings. The third Annual Bass Pro sponsored Mississippi River Monsters Catfish Tournament Captain’s Meeting has been scheduled at the civic center that will feature vendor exhibits open to the public.

The conference itself was geared toward music tourism and the seminars culminated with an excursion to the boyhood home of Johnny Cash in Dyess on Wednesday.

“The Governor is a promoter of tourism,” said Jackson. “ The whole them of the conference seems to be centered on music related. We have a lot of opportunity with the music heritage we have here. We need to take advantage of those things and start promoting some of the musicians that have played around here, particularly in the origins of Rock and Roll with Rockabilly and the Blues players.”

ASU-Mid South maintains an homage to the roots of rock with KWEM at 99.3 FM and from its replicated studio on Campus. The radio station originally housed in the east Broadway studio where the CVB and Main Street West Memphis offices share space. In the 1950’s musicians could get exposure for their unique sound by playing live on air from the KWEM studio for a $20 fee.

Artists like Howlin’Wolf, B.B. King, Johnny Cash made the scene and now stand together in a mural located west of the Welcome Center for tourists to see. The post war night club history of West Memphis included about three dozen musical venues on the east end of town including Club Road, (now MLK Blvd.) and 8th Street. The clubs served to develop many artists that went on to greater careers.

“I’m glad the college has KWEM,” said Jackson. “

We need to take advantage of that history and promote it.”

From the morning presentation,

Hutchinson whisked

off to tour the Academies of West Memphis and was wowed by the emphasis on computers.

“We’ve got computer programming in every high School in Arkansas,” said Hutchinson. “West Memphis is very impressive with a cyber security program. Marion is a fine school doing well with this also. I’ve been emphasizing computer coding in every school, but they’ve taken a further step with the University of Memphis and ASU-Mid South with cyber security. We are now leading the nation in computer science education.”

Being an ambassador for tourism comes as part of the position he called the best job in America, but the governor talked fiscal constraint, taxes and agriculture at his afternoon stops on Monday. He noted Crittenden County was up against the competition of the income tax free Tennessee.

“We’ve got to do more in competing with our income taxes in the state,” said Hutchinson. “You’re facing Tennessee with zero percent on earned income.

You’re competitive because of lower property tax rates.

We’ve lowered income tax to six and five percent for most people. We need to do more to flatten it along with constraining the growth of government and making sure were are efficient in our operations and try to grow our economy to absorb the tax cut as well.”

The governor reported a flourishing state economy and a financially sound government, touting agricultural exports, 60,000 new jobs in the last three years, and the lowest unemployment in Arkansas history.

“We presented a budget that budgeted a surplus,” said Hutchinson. “That’s like in your home budget, you budget a savings. The state has never done that before.”

By John Rech