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All grown up: economic development, university growth allow Jonesboro to 'mature.' (economic development in Jonesboro, Arkansas)

Arkansas State University's Convocation Center at Jonesboro is the biggest multipurpose arena in the state.

When expansion is completed on the school's Dean B. Ellis Library, it will be the largest library in Arkansas.

Jonesboro is home to one of four state "business incubators" for the development of industry.

Arkansas State has had a 31 percent increase in enrollment during the past decade.

And this is a city that supposedly has an inferiority complex?

"Even though this town has been around many years, it recently has matured a lot," says Scott Lewis, executive assistant to the president at Arkansas State. "Jonesboro has sustained growth even in periods when the rest of northeast Arkansas experienced a decline. It has diversified its economy."

All this, Lewis says, has changed the attitude of Jonesboro residents.

"The community is much more progressive in its outlook," he says.

Take, for example, facilities at Arkansas State. The school replaced 5,000-seat Indian Fieldhouse -- once a drill hall for the ROTC -- with the 10,563-seat Convocation Center in 1987.

And it's not just for basketball.

"It is a multipurpose arena," insists Jerry Schaeffer, associate athletic director at Arkansas State. "There are meeting rooms that are used extensively, trade shows, tractor pulls, rodeos.

"Something's going on here today as a matter of fact."

Indian Stadium was expanded from 18,709 seats to 33,410 seats this year. ASU's first 1991 home football game drew an estimated crowd of 20,000 people, well above the school's average of about 15,000.

According to the Greater Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce, each out-of-town visitor spends about $125 per day.

"In addition to the economic impact and the social impact, the Convocation Center and the expanded stadium are image things," says Henry Jones III, the chamber president. "They say that Jonesboro is a big-league city."

Jones then pauses.

"Well, we're trying to get there," he says with a laugh.

A cultural step forward such as the library expansion will help. The Ellis Library is being expanded at a cost of $9.6 million. Once completed, the library will be twice its existing size -- 200,000 SF and 165-feet tall.

There also are the industries that have chosen Jonesboro as home in recent years. During the past two years, at least five manufacturing plants have located at Jonesboro, creating more than 500 jobs.

Most recently, Gorton Hydraulics Inc. broke ground for an expanded facility in the Jonesboro Industrial Park. Gorton is a graduate of the East Arkansas Business Incubator System, which is funded through ASU.

It is another example of the umbilical cord between the university and the city.

Perhaps the best example of Jonesboro's growth is the growth of Arkansas State. Enrollment at ASU has gone from 7,448 in the fall of 1981 to 9,782 this fall.

Maybe it's just a sign of maturity.
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Author:Webb, Kane
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 23, 1991
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