By his own admission, Rex Nelson loves Chamber banquets, but as the senior editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette told the event in Paragould this week, sometimes he feels he has to “lie like hell” at Chamber banquets to give a positive address.

“But I don’t have to do that here,” he said. “Paragould’s got it going on.”

Nelson noted the state only has three real growth areas, Northwest Arkansas, the Little Rock metropolitan area, and the Jonesboro-Paragould corridor.

“You have become the growth area for the entire eastern half of the state,” Nelson said. “You’ve had great growth. So keep up the great work.”

The 18-month COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has fundamentally changed the outlook of many people. “I think that more and more people are going to want to tap into what we have here,” he said, including its friendliness, lack of traffic jams, lack of crime in most places, and abundant outdoor activities.

Nelson noted that in the 1950s through the 1970s, Chambers of Commerce used to seek factories to relocate to their areas. “Smokestack-chasing and stuff,” he said. “Now they chase talent.”

That is, they seek talented people. And to attract such people, Nelson said, cities in the state need to make the right decisions going forward. “And when we get broadband,” he said, “people on the crowded coasts and the crowded metropolitan areas will look to Arkansas and say, ‘Arkansas is to middle America what Colorado is to the West.’”

Making the right decisions, Nelson said, involved electing the right people to public office and focusing on public-private partnerships. “I think our best days are still ahead,” he said. “I think the pandemic has changed something fundamental in this country that is going to play to our benefit for many years to come.”

Nelson concluded by noting that Paragould is a growing town. “You are an example of how to do it right,” he said.

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