Lending a Helping Hand
As the Chamber expanded its priorities, it became increasingly aware of the importance of social issues in the area’s economic vitality. Throughout its history, the Chamber recognized that improvements to the welfare of the city were integral to the city becoming a thriving economic center. It realized that the quality of life in an area attracts or detracts business development; because of this, the Chamber made improving the quality of life in the city a high priority. Rett Tucker sees the Chamber's mission
as two-fold: to enhance the economic development of the area and to improve the quality of life in the region. Tucker explains, "If you have good quality of life, people are happy and want to live here. They are more productive. If you've got economic development and job growth, then you've got more resources to improve the quality of life, so I think they are very much tied together." Because of this dual mission, it is hard to separate the contributions made by the Chamber to the social welfare of the greater
Little Rock area from its contributions to the economic development of the area. The Chamber works to build an effective city infrastructure as well as to improve education, medical facilities, community relations, leisure activities, and the leadership potential in the greater Little Rock area. These concerns evolved over the years, increased, and became an essential component of the Chamber's work. Becoming vocal when necessary, the Chamber generally takes a behind the scenes disposition in its commitment to
the city’s social well-being.
In the early years of the city, making Little Rock a livable city was one of the Chamber’s many concerns. Businesses in the 1860s were economically weak, and therefore preferred the cash system. But merchants frequently bought on and extended credit, leading to over-extensions of credit and bankruptcy. Due to the scarcity of money, in 1867 the Chamber adopted a resolution urging the City Council to avoid issuing bonds except in the case of supporting schools. Even in the early days, the Chamber saw public
education as one of the most important factors in attracting and keeping people in the city. The clerk of the Little Rock School Board reported regularly to the Chamber, keeping it abreast of the Little Rock schools, including numbers of students as well as annexing and construction issues. By 1896, the Chamber encouraged the establishment of a "first class college or university". After the demise of St. John's College during the Civil War and the rejection of a bond issue to continue financing the Arkansas Industrial
University (later the University of Arkansas), the Chamber continued to discuss the importance of having an institution of higher education in the city. Understanding the potential loss to the city due to this rejection, the Chamber supported a 1923 bill to remove University from Fayetteville and relocate it in Little Rock. Unsuccessful in this attempt, the city remained without a major institution of higher education for many years to come.
Leisure activities in the late nineteenth century took place in parks, and spectator sports, such as baseball and horse racing were popular. The Chamber organized an Entertainment Committee to "promote such public affairs and amusements as properly fall within the province of the Board." In the early years that meant Fourth of July, Mardi Gras, and other celebrations. The opening of the free bridge across the Arkansas River in July of 1897 warranted such a celebration. This Chamber supported festivity, deemed
"the greatest demonstration ever seen in Little Rock", increased the spirit and morale of the city.
In 1850 little more than 2,000 people lived in Little Rock. By 1890 there were almost 26,000 residents, and the population reached almost 40,000 in 1900. With this steady growth in population, Little Rock changed from a river town to a modern city. Both the city and the Chamber focused on supporting improvements to the infrastructure of the city. In response to typhoid outbreaks, the Sanitation Committee of the Chamber adopted and referred to the City Council a resolution demanding regular and frequent health
inspections of dairies, water works, and sewers. As pavement of streets continued, improvements in transportation increased and growth of the city blossomed. Little Rock, like other capital cities of the time, strove to become a center of cultural and intellectual activity. With this hope, the Progressive Era ushered in reform efforts, many initiated between 1911 and 1919 by Mayor Charles E. Taylor. Marked by an increase in educational and social welfare programs, the Chamber contributed to many of these social
causes. In 1918, the Chamber gave money to assist African Americans in securing headquarters for "Negro organizations" (such as the Negro Little Rock Chamber of Commerce), for bringing "Negro delegates" to the city, and for defraying the cost of African American school teachers attending the State Teachers Association. The Chamber also gave money to local organizations, such as the YMCA, and organized the Community Chest to fund various social causes.
The passage of morality laws marked the Progressive Era; in its effort to become the cultural center of the state Little Rock increased efforts to purge undesirable elements such as gambling and prostitution. The city also placed bans on the sale, manufacture, and possession of cigarettes, displays of boxing and bullfighting, and certain movies. The Chamber, therefore, encouraged more "gentile" forms of recreation. It sponsored football games for the University of Arkansas, employed a director and purchased music
for the Little Rock Boys’ Band, and assisted the Playground Association in its community programs.
The morality laws often dealt with the image of the city, and the Chamber placed a great deal of importance this issue. It tackled prohibition to combat the saloon town image, supported new hospitals and schools, and became more responsive to the needs of the community. The Chamber also became more vocal in its stand on moral issues.
Although the threat of Ku Klux Klan retaliation was real (Little Rock had the largest chapter of the Klan in 1926 ), when a lynching took place in the city of Little Rock on May 5, 1927, the Chamber made a public statement published in the Arkansas Gazette. It denounced the lynching and the behavior of the crowd that overtook Little Rock for two days. It condemned the Sheriff’s lack of action and urged the Grand Jury of Pulaski County to investigate the conduct of the sheriff, the mayor, and the Police
Department. It publicly offered money to the authorities to help apprehend the guilty parties and commended the 206th Coast Artillery, Arkansas National Guard and Capt. Harry Smith for breaking up the mob.
The Chamber's responsibility to the social welfare of the city was evident, as well, when the 1927 Spring Flood struck the city. Without the fanfare of their more vocal efforts, the Chamber cooperated with the Red Cross, the Arkansas Farm Credit Company, and the Arkansas Flood Relief Commission in the flood relief work. In the minutes of December 9, 1926, President of the Chamber, J.C. Conway wrote,
"As to the Flood Relief work, we have every cause to be proud of the service of the Chamber. When the Spring floods struck us, we practically turned our Executive and clerical organization over to the Red Cross. For weeks they were the mainstays of the organization. It was a piece of work that lay without our province but it contributed materially towards making flood relief work in Little Rock the model for other communities."
Education, a strong indicator of the well being of a community, experienced difficulties in Little Rock during the early 1900s. At the turn of the century, the enrollment of the public schools surpassed the population of the city twenty years earlier, quickly outgrowing the facilities and teaching staff as the city expanded. The schools throughout Arkansas received little aid from the state. Seen as a local issue, Little Rock supported its school system with local revenues. Money came from millage on real and
personal property. When the system's hardships surfaced, the Chamber supported increased financing of the schools by endorsing a Board of Education plan for increased voluntary assessment for school purposes only.
Due to this support, the Little Rock Public Schools constructed several facilities in the late 1920s. A new large high school, now known as Central High School, opened in 1927 at the cost of over $1.5 million. It was one of the most expensive high schools of its day. Then, in 1929, Dunbar High School opened. It was the first Arkansas high school for African-Americans accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. In addition to the high schools, the school board allowed junior colleges to
hold classes in unused portions of these two schools. Little Rock Junior College opened at Central High School in 1927 and Dunbar Junior College opened at Dunbar High School in 1930. Both were segregated, as were the high schools.
The Chamber supported higher education for African Americans through its efforts to underwrite a significant amount of money to keep Philander Smith and Haygood Colleges in the area. In 1930 the Chamber raised over $27,000 as a guarantee to the Rockefeller Foundation, Rosenwald Fund, and the officers of the Northern Methodist Church, who would then fund over $200,000 toward a new building to house Philander Smith and Haygood Colleges. Three years later, the Chamber raised $500 to pay teachers no longer drawing
a salary at these two schools due to the poor financial situation.
The Chamber achieved most of these efforts, like raising money to assist the educational system, in understated ways. Many of its accomplishments went undetected outside of the organization. Noted in the minutes of the Chamber in 1927, "President Kahn stated...he had been convinced that there were many so-called unseen activities of the Chamber of Commerce so far as the public is concerned which possibly causes the public not to give the Chamber of Commerce sufficient credit for all the things it is doing."
Early in 1932 Little Rock began feeling the effects of the Great Depression. The Chamber raised funds to keep teachers in the classrooms and signed a resolution of endorsement for the Little Rock School Board to apply for a federal loan for the improvement of schools, including building repairs at Pulaski Heights Junior High and Grammar School. It actively employed Little Rock Junior College students during the depressed times, helping to keep businesses afloat while at the same time strengthening the role of
the Junior College in the area. The Chamber envisioned itself during the Depression as necessary to the whole community, but only if it was an active Chamber. Carroll Thibault, in accepting the lead office of the Chamber stated in a press release,
"The essential thing is that the Chamber of Commerce continue to function as the institution thru' which the citizens of Greater Little Rock may act upon important matters affecting their welfare. Its efforts should be pledged to undertakings of public, not private, benefit. To function effectively, the Chamber of Commerce should have the moral support of all our citizens."
One important matter affecting the welfare of the citizens was the expansion of the University of Arkansas Medical School. Originally opened in 1879 as the Arkansas Industrial University, Medical Department, it was located in an old hotel building on Second Street. In 1890 it relocated to Second and Sherman Streets. After the new Capitol opened in 1912, the medical school moved into the Old Statehouse. Legislation passed in 1917 allocating $500,000 over a ten-year period for a state hospital and medical school
under the supervision of the University's board of trustees, but matching funds from private sources were necessary. The Chamber pledged $100,000 toward the project in 1924 but the University's trustees were unable to secure the rest of the matching funds due to the language of the legislation. The Chamber actively pursued the possibility of a first class medical school, but the condition of the Old Statehouse was deteriorating and few possibilities were on the horizon. Therefore, it involved itself in the planning
and coordinating a new site for the school. By 1933, several bills before the state legislature posed a threat to the Chamber's work on finding a site for the school. The Chamber declared a continuation of its involvement in seeking a building for the medical school and it opposed any legislation seeking to destroy this possibility. In 1935, the medical school finally moved to a site across the street from MacArthur Park, where it stayed for the next twenty-two years.
The Chamber's concerns in the 1930s reflected the knowledge that betterment of recreational opportunities in the Little Rock area affected the social well-being of the citizens. In a 1930s Chamber publication Skyline, an article about the parks commended the Little Rock Playground Association, an organization funded by the Community Chest, for its efforts in increasing the recreation available in the city, especially for children. The Chamber assisted in making this organization's funding part of the city's budget.
The recreational opportunities increased when Frank F. Boyle donated 231 acres in the southwest portion of the city. Although it took several years before being developed, the Chamber's foresight helped to designate the land as natural park space. The Chamber sponsored organized sporting events, too. These included football and the Little Rock Baseball Association games. While leisure activities may have helped distract the people of Little Rock from economic woes, the Depression continued to affect the city's
morale. Purported as the solution to many of these problems was Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The National Recovery Act boosted the morale of the business community of Little Rock; both the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) created jobs for Arkansans and the people of Little Rock. The Chamber became the administrator for the National Recovery Act. In the Chamber's 1936 Annual Report, Grover T. Owens, chair of the Chamber explained, "In the creation of the PWA and later
the WPA, with all that was involved in the preparation and sponsoring of local projects, chambers of commerce found a new avenue of activity." Some of the accomplishments the Chamber achieved in conjunction with the National Recovery Act included: Federal Aid Projects, the High School Stadium, the Little Theater, the Auditorium, buildings on the Medical School and Junior College campuses, and the zoo.
By 1940, the Chamber invested more effort into community relations issues. It opposed compulsory health insurance, or any system of "political" medicine, raised political awareness through a "get out the vote" campaign, and felt there was a need to coordinate fund-raising activities for "Negro institutions." While it made great strides in educating the community on these issues, the formal educational system was in increasing turmoil. The Little Rock School Board outlined their financial troubles to the Chamber
and the Chamber began a campaign to pay teachers during this period. The Chamber sent a letter of commendation to the Pulaski County Assessor, the Pulaski County Judge, and the Little Rock School Board for their efforts to revise local tax assessments. These efforts culminated in the Chamber's Education Committee playing a lead role in getting voter approval for a $4 million bond issue to finance building projects and school expansion.
Because the Little Rock Junior College did not receive state or school district funds and depended on tuition and private donations alone, the Chamber raised $50,000 in 1946 for the college's building fund. It also publicly endorsed the proposed efforts leading to a new site for the college, requiring over $500,000 for permanent buildings. This institution had a student population of over one thousand students. The Chamber wanted a four-year college in Little Rock, but that possibility was still out of reach
until 1956. The Chamber supported the efforts of Central Baptist College to acquire the hospital area at Camp Robinson, and it passed a resolution to ask the government to cooperate in making Camp Robinson available for this purpose. The college, however, remained in Conway.
Still hoping to make Little Rock a cultural center more like other capital cities, in 1956 the Chamber began a Cultural Affairs Committee. Its major project that year promoted the fledgling symphony orchestra in Little Rock. The Chamber solicited organizations to buy season tickets as the major fund-raiser. Because of dedicated musicians, most of whom were unpaid, the symphony orchestra enriched Little Rock's cultural scene. Other events in the city began with ideas first mentioned in the Chamber's Cultural Affairs
Efforts to make Little Rock the intellectual and cultural center that the Chamber envisioned came to a halt in 1957. A dark side of the community surfaced in 1954 when the Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka decision of the United States Supreme Court in 1954 forced legislation of a program for the gradual desegregation of students in the Little Rock Public Schools. Consequently, the Little Rock School Board shut down Dunbar Junior College, and a new board of trustees thrust Little Rock Junior College
into private status. In 1957, when nine African American students attempted to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School, bigotry and political pressure reared up and changed the climate of the city in profound ways.
The Chamber, although quiet in the beginning of the crisis, ended its silence when the schools failed to open in September of 1958. Based on its belief that the Chamber's responsibilities involved both economic and cultural development, it made a series of statements to the public. The first, dated January 26, 1959, supported the Little Rock School Board's request to the Federal Courts that the School Board reopen the schools on a segregated basis until the end of the school year and then submit a new plan for
desegregation. The Federal Courts rejected this request. The second statement, February 23, 1959, gave the results of a poll of the Chamber’s general membership. The poll showed that the majority of members favored reopening the schools on a controlled minimum plan of integration acceptable to the federal courts. On March 2, 1959, the Board of Directors of the Chamber voted to request that the Arkansas State Supreme Court rule on the validity of Acts 4 and 5 that made it possible to close the schools and
withhold state funds from Little Rock.
The statement dated, March 23, 1959, outlined the Chamber's position on reopening the schools:
"Based solely on the reason that we desire to seek a solution acceptable to a large majority of the people of Little Rock, the Board of Directors of the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce favor:
The continuation and community support of high schools in Little Rock operating with private funds.
The reopening of the Little Rock Public High Schools by using a pupil assignment system acceptable to the School Board and the Federal Courts.
The School Board assuring all teachers that their contracts will be promptly renewed; in order that we do not lose our valuable and loyal staff.
Accepting the responsibility to seek new laws in Congress that would return the operation of public schools to each individual school district; regardless of the outcome of our present school crisis."
E. Grainger Williams, Chair of the Chamber in 1959, recalls that the Chamber reluctantly dealt with the school situation. He says that the bankers feared loss of deposits, especially state deposits. The department stores feared they would lose business due to a boycott spearheaded by extremists. Many of the department stores were owned and operated by those who could have personally been targeted in the boycott as well. "We didn't want to cross that fine line and have the people that were against integration
pick up the Jews, or the Catholics, or anybody else who was in a minority group," Williams added. By the time he became chair the business community felt that it was time for someone to speak out. Doing so lost the Chamber a third of its membership and a third of its budget.
The staff and Board cautiously continued to work with the schools and the Women's Emergency Committee to reopen the schools for the 1959-60 school year. But even with many citizens working towards an amicable situation, the effects of the school situation devastated the community. Through the media, Little Rock's image as a hostile environment came into homes across America. New businesses, reluctant now to come to the city, feared the images of school turmoil they saw on television and in the papers reflected
the attitudes of the whole community. No new industrial plant openings would take place until 1961, two years after the Chamber made strategic plans and efforts to turn the situation around.
B. Finley Vinson feels that the crisis, though divisive at the time, "pulled the community together and made it a community." He says, "I don't think we would have coalesced as we have and become the cooperative, working community, if we hadn't had [the school crisis].... I think in the Chamber we realized that we could be torn apart too easily. And we ought to fix things where they…couldn't be pulled apart so easily." New organizations, started by or in connection with the Chamber, helped bring in new
industries despite the image problem Little Rock faced. Walter Smiley, president of Fifty for Future in 1991, told Leroy Donald of the Arkansas Gazette, "Strengthening a school system is as significant to economic development as building an off ramp for a plant."
Despite criticisms to the contrary, revitalization of the Chamber coincided with plans to revitalize the city. The Chamber supported new plans for the downtown area and applications for housing projects. The Chamber initiated a public safety program and met with other community leaders on revitalization issues. The Chamber viewed race relations as a key component in the revitalization of the community. Due to the residual effects of the school crisis and the slow process of integration, tension within the city
remained high in the 1960s. After initial requests from the African American community, the Chamber formed a negotiating group, outside the official Chamber organization, called the Downtown Negotiating Committee. Working with predominant leaders of the African American community, the Downtown Negotiating Committee was responsible for helping to peacefully integrate the businesses, movie theaters, and eating establishments of Little Rock in 1964.
The schools continued their struggle to survive the effects of the 1957 school crisis that 1962 Chair William Bowen termed the "deepest and most burdensome mark on the city." Therefore, in the 1970s, the Chamber took a proactive role and made a resolution to the Little Rock School Board that the school authorities needed to "adopt and unfalteringly enforce policies to secure and protect these basic rights of the children who attend our public schools." These included "the right to attend our public schools in
an atmosphere conducive to education, free from malicious distractions or fear of physical harm by fellow students or other persons." Knowing that it needed more than just words to support its stand on public education, the Chamber recruited volunteers to assist the public schools. Over 80 people volunteered more than 15,300 hours in the newly launched Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS), a 1972 Chamber initiated program.
In 1971 W.C. McDonald, Chair of the Chamber's Education Committee, stated that the Little Rock School Board faced the most serious problem since 1957. Due to the Clark case, federal courts ordered the school board to develop plans to eliminate all segregation in the schools. The Clark case, a law suit brought on by a Little Rock African American mother who wanted to send her children to the schools near her home, determined that school districts had to achieve racial balance in all schools. In Little Rock, this
was usually achieved by busing children to schools other than their neighborhood school. The Chamber supported the Little Rock School Board's plan to achieve racial balance, and at the end of the 1970s, the Chamber supported a successful election for millage increase and a bond issue for the schools. Sherman Tate recalls that "the most prevalent issue was dealing with busing and whether we as a business community should support busing as a means of effectively desegregating the public schools."
In higher education, the Chamber fully supported the merger between the Little Rock University (LRU) with the University of Arkansas. LRU was formed when the Little Rock School District no longer wanted the responsibilities attached with running the Little Rock Junior College. When the administration of the school went from public control to a private board, the school transitioned into a four-year college. The private board managed LRU from 1956 - 1968. By the 1960s, the advantages of LRU merging with the University
of Arkansas became increasingly apparent to many people. Although the state's politicians disagreed on the advantages and disadvantages of the merger, usually split along regional lines, the Chamber supported LRU becoming part of the University of Arkansas system from the beginning of negotiations. As William Bowen explains the merger, “the Chamber was at the forefront of bringing LRU into the University [of Arkansas] system…And that's made a quality school out of what otherwise was really a commuter's
The Chamber's efforts also went into establishing a vocational/technical school in North Little Rock, from inception, application and submission. "In order to have a community college" Paul Harvel explains, "you have to have a free site. So we worked through the General Services Administration [of the state] and they offered property at Fort Roots...for an institution to be used for vocational/technical type purposes, because community colleges were mainly vocational/technical-type schools." The Chamber submitted
an application to the State Department of Education in cooperation with the chambers in North Little Rock, Jacksonville, and North Pulaski County. Their attempt to raise funds through a countywide election to approve a two and one-half mill tax for construction and equipping the school failed. However, forty acres of land were set aside for the Pulaski Vocational-Technical School. The Vocational-Technical School finally moved to the site in 1976. When the Arkansas General Assembly created the Technical and Community
College system in 1991, Pulaski Vo-Tech became a Technical College under the coordination of the Arkansas Board of Higher Education. The school is now an integral part of that system, with training that meets the needs of the businesses and industries in central Arkansas.
In the 1970s, the Chamber began to put more emphasis on the development of leadership in the community. The William J. Smith Award, started in 1972, gave an award for the best suggestion submitted to the Chamber for community service. Then in 1979, an annual Lessons in Leadership seminar supported management development at every level of the private enterprise system. The Chamber appointed a Long Range Planning Committee in this year to better prepare for the opportunities that awaited the leadership of the 1980s.
Recreation became an increasing consideration in the quality of life of the area in the 1970s. The Chamber worked with other organizations to increase the number of opportunities available in the area. Pinnacle Mountain State Park was established with major support of the Chamber. Paul Harvel uses this as another example to illustrate how the Chamber works behind the scenes. "Very few people know that Pinnacle Mountain State Park started with an idea at the Chamber," he says. The Chamber urged implementation
of other recreation areas, including the development of boat ramps in Rebsamen and Maumelle parks. The businesses of the community raised over $100,000 to install Astroturf and improve the lighting at War Memorial Stadium, seeing a return on their money through increased business on game days. The Chamber also studied the feasibility of expanding War Memorial Stadium to better meet the needs of the community.
By 1979, the Chamber's work successfully achieved a city legislative package that positively affected the recreational opportunities of the city. It pushed for the NAIA Basketball tournament to become an annual event and it assumed the responsibility for the annual Arkansas Athlete of the Year award (with the proceeds going to the Arkansas Cancer Society). The idea of an improved sports arena became a major consideration in the 1980s and resulted in the new Alltel Arena.
The Major Sports Association continues to promote sports in the central Arkansas area. The association hosts a luncheon event for the female basketball coaches to compliment their already successful men's basketball coaches luncheon. Fox Sports Analyst Pat Summerall, along with four Arkansas football coaches, attended the annual football Coaches luncheon with a standing room only crowd. The Broyles Award event added a $5,000 prize to the top assistant coach in the country. The Chamber also helped to bring the
Golden Gloves Boxing Tournament to Little Rock and endorsed the need for a UALR basketball team. These leisure activities and sporting events enriched the quality of life for many in the Little Rock area.
The Chamber's recent involvement in improving the social conditions of the city focuses on a more holistic approach to community affairs. No longer seen as separate or auxiliary to the other functions of the Chamber, community development is now an inseparable part of the Chamber. In 1988, OURTOWN started as a retreat for Chamber members who want to make a firm commitment to improve the way Little Rock functions as a community of citizens. The program continues to sponsor special retreats, with titles such as
"Undoing Racism" for the improvement of race relations in the greater Little Rock area. Other programs that highlighted the well-being of the whole community include: Paint Your Heart Out, a group of volunteers that paint homes for those who need assistance; Crimeout!, a public safety program in conjunction with Fifty for the Future; and Drugs Don't Work, offering assistance to small businesses to keep them drug-free. Programs like these continue to promote the well-being of the city, targeting areas that may
not have any other source of funding or support in the community. The strong leadership within the Chamber influences the direction of resources, both monetary and human. Sometimes the programs arise out of a particular need that is brought to the attention of the Chamber, other times the Chamber leadership anticipates the benefit of specific projects.
To develop this leadership further, the Chamber initiated several outreach programs. In 1985, the Leadership Institute began. The Chamber selected 45 fellows that first year. They participated in nine full-day sessions revolving around government and politics, the arts, finance, transportation and education. Since then over 600 leaders have completed the program. The Chamber also sees the area school children as future leaders. The Youth Leadership Institute, an offshoot of the adult institute, formed to encourage
leadership development in high school students, grew over time. In addition, special programs targeted to this group include dropout prevention, and a scholars program to track top Arkansas students so that they will return to Arkansas when they finish their college studies.
Also beginning in the 1980s, the Chamber's educational programs placed more significance on diversity of action. New programs targeted key elements of the educational system for maximum effect. In 1987, the Chamber agreed that illiteracy was hurting economic efforts. Ed Penick Jr., Ray Thornton, President of the University of Arkansas System, and then Governor Bill Clinton addressed a crowd of business leaders concerned with educational issues. In response, the Chamber launched a public school image campaign
that led to the formation of Partners in Education, a program that pairs schools with local businesses. This program, started with the help of Sherman Tate, allows businesses to work closely with the schools. Tate explains that the program helps to bridge the gap between the business community and the education community. For example, Partners in Education hosted an idea exchange for area principals that allowed them to hear ways to better communicate their school's needs to business partners. The Chamber also
joined the Little Rock Alliance for Our Public Schools to co-host Show and Tell promoting the public schools, and the Chamber's Management Task Force provided management aid to Little Rock School District.
Some of the Chamber’s involvement in the community is less obvious. The Chamber recognized the investment of millions of dollars into the community through the University of Arkansas System, including UAMS and the Law School. In keeping with the importance of a first-class system of higher education, the Chamber committed itself to raising over $800,000 to develop land given to the University of Arkansas system. Quietly working to achieve this goal, the Cammack Village site now houses the president of the
University system and conference centers. And, in response to the need for students with advanced technological backgrounds, the Chamber supported the newly approved College of Information Sciences and Systems Engineering at UALR, by promoting dialogue between the business and academic communities.
The Chamber also created seats on its Board of Directors for the chancellor of UALR, the president of Philander Smith College, the superintendents of the North Little Rock, Little Rock, and Pulaski County Special School Districts. Sherman Tate feels that these seats give the educational leaders, "an opportunity to interact with and discuss their concerns with business leaders and to get a better sense of what the business community views as its highest priority.”
The Chamber continues to believe that education is an integral part of the economic development of the area. It lends its assistance to a number of projects and organizations that make contributions to this goal. Ed Penick, Jr. stresses that the Chamber "still has the responsibility to support the schools and see that they're financed well and that they're supported by the students and the parents."
As the Chamber readies for the millennium, several recommendations for the Chamber’s future priorities deal with social issues and how to promote a community of responsive citizens. Among these recommendations are adopting the Education 2000 partnership to better understand educational concerns, beginning a transition to more Chamber involvement in the Crimeout! Program, focusing more specifically on greater Little Rock sporting events through the Major Sports Association, exploring new avenues for OURTOWN
program, continuing to staff and emphasize the Leadership Greater Little Rock and Alumni programs, and expanding the Chamber's focus on higher education, vocational training and school-to-work programs, with more emphasis on computer skills training, while also building the relationships with academia to get the right skills trained.
"Mack" McLarty succinctly unites social well-being with economic development. "I don't think you can have, particularly now, economic development and advocacy of business interest without looking at a much broader set of elements which do include the quality of life." He goes on to say, "I don't think you can have economic development without good factors on the other side of the equation." The Chamber actively pursues balancing this equation. As Sherman Tate describes, "Over the years, I think, the Chamber has
evolved into that kind of effective machine…because the Chamber, through the years, became more adept at understanding what the citizens of the community wanted." The Chamber also had the foresight to maintain and expand programs that dealt with public well-being as an integral part of economic development, quietly working to accomplish much needed service in the community.