Community comes together to talk about Hot Spring County’s future

Gretchen Ritchey

On Wednesday, Feb. 7, a second Hot Spring County Conversations was held at College of the Ouachitas. Hot Spring County Judge Dennis Thornton opened the meeting by welcoming everyone in attendance.
“In November I asked for your input on how to grow the county, and today we’re going to hear the results,” said Thornton. “Hot Spring County is not stale there is a lot of stuff happening.” Thornton provided attendees with printed material describing recent updates to county roads and bridges, along with grants and Jones Mill updates.
Amy Whitehead with University of Central Arkansas Community Development Institute led the program. She told attendees that in November a hard copy survey was given during the meeting and the survey was placed online allowing it to be taken throughout the county. Whitehead said there were more than 200 surveys completed. The surveys were completed in 14 communities. The majority of these surveys were by persons in the Malvern, Glen Rose and Bismarck areas and were typically 37 to 65 years of age.
A round table discussion was held as each table was divided into groups and discussed what they wanted to see happen in Hot Spring County in the future.
The biggest discussion was about recreation and youth activities.
County Extension Agent Rachel Bearden addressed the group by saying that she believed youth leadership in all communities would be of great value. She said it would be nice if Hot Spring County could afford a youth center like surrounding counties. She also said that promoting a good farmer’s market and the river park would help future needs of the county.
Other topics brought before the round tables were comments about an off-road bike trail near the river, wifi charging center and possibly moving the county fairgrounds to draw a larger group of people.
Another statement brought forth was the fact that there are several famous celebrities from this area and Malvern and Hot Spring County could market these names to increase tourism. One attendee suggest a Hollywood Walk in front of the Ritz Theatre listing the area’s famous celebrities.
There was some discussion about alcohol sales. Attendees believed that not having alcohol sales was hurting the county because restaurants and retail businesses are choosing to go where they can sell alcohol.
Some thought an EDC sales tax would help benefit the county by providing assistance for safety and housing.
Mentoring to children to show them good behavior and encourage children to work with their hands.
Housing was brought about with several issues being talked about: city consolidation, retirement center in Jones Mill, responsible landlords and increase rural apartments.
The next temp Thornton plans to take with the Hot Spring County Conversations is going to communities and schools. Thornton said he hopes there will be great community support when traveling to different locations.
Sheriff Mike Cash, Rick McClure with the Economic Development Center and Mason Robinson with COTO each had five minutes to speak to attendees.
Cash began by saying that a new public safety office located in Bismarck will pay for itself by not having to make deputies drive as far. He said the department recently updated six older cars with salvage titles to newer cars. Cash also said that his department is not the ones who release sex offenders. Arkansas Department of Correction is in charge of releasing those prisoners. Cash went on to say that there are a lot of sex offenders in Malvern, mainly because the prison in Hot Spring County houses these offenders and they often do not have any other place to go when they are released. He said his office has one deputy that has the job of keeping track of these offenders. Cash spoke about neighborhood watches saying that 10 years ago there were watches all over the county but a year ago there was just one active watch group. He said neighborhood watch groups are up to four but more are needed. He said anytime anyone sees something suspicious to call law enforcement.
McClure told attendees that it’s all about teamwork. He said the EDC’s focus is trying to keep businesses in Hot Spring county and bringing more into the area. In 2014 All Steel Construction opened in the former Precision Industries building on Division Street. Dock Leveler Manufacturing moved from Highway 270 to the former Kohler Co. building in the Industrial Park near COTO. Arkansas Stave and Lumber Co. opened for business in 2017 in the former DLM building on Highway 270.
Mason Robinson spoke about the workforce training available at COTO and the apprenticeships available at the Workforce Center.


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