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CNN Lists El Dorado Among “Best Small Town Comebacks’

‘The pride of South Arkansas’

CNN story lists El Dorado among ‘best small town comebacks’
By: Tia Lyons – El Dorado News-Times


A view of downtown El Dorado at the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue shows the Bradford Pear trees in full bloom. On Monday, El Dorado was listed by CNN Travel as one of America’s best small town comebacks.

A view of downtown El Dorado at the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue shows the Bradford Pear trees in full bloom. On Monday, El Dorado was listed by CNN Travel as one of America’s best small town comebacks.

Despite having faced heavy industry and job losses, business closings and population decreases over the past two decades, El Dorado has managed to hold steady as citizens and community leaders searched diligently for new, creative ways to take control of the city’s economic destiny.

And for that resiliency, El Dorado has been recognized by CNN Travel as one of the top examples for “America’s best small town comebacks.”

In a story posted Monday on CNN.com, El Dorado was ranked with seven other small towns across the nation for its “heart and hard work of historic rebound” and lauded for having recouped its reputation as “the pride of South Arkansas.”

Other cities on CNN’s list included New Iberia, La., Paducah, Ky., Coronado, Calif., Frederick, Md., Ely, Nev., DeLanda, Fla., and Libertyville, Ill.

The news, which burned through the community and social networking websites on Monday, was a pleasant surprise for most who heard it.

Robert Reynolds, chairman of the El Dorado Economic Development Board, enthusiastically summed up his thoughts in one word.

“Fabulous,” Reynolds said. “And it’s all local effort.”

As proof of El Dorado’s forward motion, community leaders cited such assets as the El Dorado Promise, citizens’ willingness to pass the El Dorado Forward economic development sales tax, the El Dorado Conference Center, local industrial expansion, and new industry and business development, including Therma-Flite and the newly opened Atwoods.

The national listing is testament to the can-do attitude of El Dorado residents in the face of adverse conditions, some of which could have killed the town, and all of the years of hard work they have undertaken to improve the quality of life here, community leaders and local officials told the News-Times on Monday.

“You can’t buy advertising like that,” said Mark Givens, executive director of Main Street El Dorado. “It’s a tribute to folks like (downtown developers Richard and Vertis Mason), the business owners and a lot of property owners.”

CNN’s ranking was not the first time El Dorado has been nationally recognized, particularly for its revitalized downtown.

In 2009, the city was one of five cities to receive the Great American Main Street Award.

The award is issued annually by the National Trust of Historic Preservation.

Don Hale president of the Diamond Agency, which works with several local groups to help promote the city, said story starters about El Dorado were sent out to several national news organizations, including CNN, about a month ago.

“I got a call back from an assistant editor at CNN, and we pitched an economic development story with a tourism aspect,” Hale explained.

The idea was then forwarded to travel writer Jordan Rane, who regularly pens  stories for CNN, and Hale said he was later notified that El Dorado would appear in an upcoming CNN feature story.

Monday’s list, however, had a slightly different twist than expected, Hale said.

His initial impression was that El Dorado’s downtown would be solely highlighted as one of the best in the country, but the outcome of the CNN story was just as satisfying.

“Any time you can be nationally recognized as one of the nation’s best, it means you’re doing something right,” Hale said. “All of the hard work that’s be done over the past 20 years is paying off in dividends today.”

Mayor Frank Hash agreed, saying that, even though some large industries have come and gone over the past several years, El Dorado still has a “rock solid” industrial base, and the city is broadening its foray into the tourism field with the advent of El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc., which is working to develop a theater and arts district in the city.

And that’s not all El Dorado has to be proud of, the mayor pointed out.

“We have nonprofits, corporations, civic organizations who pour out all kinds of good things for the citizens here,” Hash said.

“Gov. Mike Beebe said Arkansas is one of four states (in the U.S.) that is operating in the green. Our city operates in the green. We don’t have any reason to be down here,” Hash continued.

El Dorado can also boast that it is one of only two cities in the country to offer a Promise college scholarship program, thanks to Murphy Oil, he noted. Kalamazoo, Mich., is the other city.

“Things like the Promise have been a blessing,” Hash said. “It’s a tremendous feature for our students.”

While El Dorado still faces its challenges — local residents have long called for a focus on job creation and more diverse shopping and entertainment opportunities — the city seems to be on the right path to keeping its economy trending upward.

“It’s always encouraging when people from outside the area recognize us for what we’re doing,” said Henry Florshiem, president and chief executive officer for the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce.

He said friends from across the country emailed him links to the CNN story after having read it.

Florsheim said he especially liked the phrase “huge civic mobilization” that was included in the CNN caption that ran alongside a picture of El Dorado’s downtown.

He said it was great for El Dorado to be acknowledged for a spirit of cooperation among its residents.

The El Dorado Conference Center is an example, he said, noting that the El Dorado Forward tax and private industry contributed to the construction of the facility, which has become a showpiece of the community.

“We may not always agree on how to do it, but we all want to make El Dorado a better place to live,” he said.

And it takes the entire community to achieve the type of success that El Dorado has seen and can continue to achieve in the future, community leaders said.

“I don’t think it’s any one thing. It’s just a joint effort from everyone across the board,” Givens said.

Added Florsheim, “Too many times, we focus on what we don’t have. Articles like this help to remind us of what we do have. It’s a really cool deal. We’re happy.”

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