The Lawrence County Steering Committee met Thursday as a follow-up to a housing forum held in June.
Elected officials and Lawrence County Chamber representatives met with Emily Hathcock with the East Arkansas Planning and Development District to discuss the information gathered during the forum and get an update on new construction that is underway.
Walnut Ridge Fire Chief Frank Owens, who also serves as building inspector and helps with the city’s housing, business and industry development, said interest from contractors and developers is on the increase.
In addition to interest from local contractors, Owens said some big developers have been seeking information about building in the area.
“In 2016, $3 million in residential construction was completed in Walnut Ridge, compared to $1.8 million in 2015,” Owens said. “That is all new construction.”
Owens said 2017 numbers are expected to be even higher, and according to Lawrence County leaders they need to be.
Lesa Walter, Lawrence County Chamber director, said they get frequent inquiries about housing in the area.
“There is a definite need for housing in our area,” Walter said. “As new businesses and industry come to our area, so do families in need of housing. Whether it be to rent or buy, there is a shortage of housing available. Many homes are snatched up by word of mouth before they are even listed for sale or rent to the public. It’s frustrating to people moving to this area. We hope to have some relief to this issue in the near future.”
One of the challenges discussed was finding property that landowners were willing to sell for new development.
Black Rock Mayor Bonnie Ragsdale said knowing what is available to build on would be a huge advantage for contractors.
Individuals who own property that they are interested in selling are encouraged to let their elected officials know so they can share the information with potential developers.
The seriousness of the housing shortage in Lawrence County was brought into focus at June’s housing forum, when local industry representatives spoke to elected officials, community leaders and developers.
During the forum, a panel consisting of Andrew McDonnough with Custom-Pak, Alan Risley with Peco and Lorretta Hayes with AID Temporary Service, echoed the vital need for additional housing.
At that meeting McDonnough reported a shortage of 30-60 employees and Peco was looking to hire 200.
Hayes said when she is trying to place individuals in jobs in the area, housing is always a major concern.
“You do what you can to try to help them find something,” she told those gathered at the June meeting, “but when there is nothing available, there is nothing you can do.”