Nancy Marsh will retire as Huntsville’s Economic Development director on Jan. 31, but will stay involved with the community.
Brandi Holt has been hired as Marsh’s replacement.
Marsh served on the Huntsville City Council for 10 years, and helped to form the Madison County Health Coalition.
Marsh retired in 2015 after 30 years with the Arkansas Department of Health, then began her part-time job with the city in July 2016.
The Economic Development Commission’s master work plan called for the hiring of a director, which is when Mayor Darrell Trahan asked Marsh about taking the job.
“I’m glad that they’ve [city] hired somebody to replace me and continue the things we’ve started,” Marsh said. “At any time the city could have pulled that funding, so I’m glad that they are continuing the position because I think it’s done some good things.”
Marsh said the various commissions with the city play important roles.
“I would like to see all the commissions in the city all work as a team, with everybody working towards the same goals,” she said.
Marsh said utilizing Mitchusson Park is vital for the city.
“We started the bluegrass festival [held in June] and I think that’s a good thing to continue,” she said. “I think having events at the park. The Fourth at the park for the Fourth of July was a big hit ... We had that first gospel singing, I think they want to continue that.”
Apart from festivals and such, Marsh said the city needs another employer in town that could hire a large number of local people. Studies have shown that thousands of people daily leave Madison County for jobs in surrounding areas.
“There’s progress I think from lots of different aspects or different avenues,” she said. “We’d love to have a factory or some kinds of business to bring in more jobs.”
The city council last year approved the purchase of 26 acres of land for a future industrial park.
Marsh said that change often happens slowly in Huntsville.
“It seems like in someways Huntsville never changes, but then again, there’s little things that keep changing,” she said, referring to the new Taco Bell and other businesses.
Special events also require a lot of people who are willing to work in the planning stages and during the events.
“The lack of volunteers has really been big on the city events. We need lots of people that want to do something different,” she said.
Huntsville has the Madison Motel and a few bed and breakfast locations, but a chain motel or larger facility is needed, Marsh said.
“Sometimes a lot of people come through Huntsville or to Huntsville for something, so we need to get them to stay longer,” she said.
“Obviously it would be great if we had a motel. I’ve reached out to some people that do like headhunting for people that want to put up motels, but I didn’t get a bite yet, but I did reach out to some people,” Marsh said.
The key to future developments is first to come up with a plan.
“You throw things out there and try to get them to happen. They don’t always happen, you just try with the next one,” she said.
Economic and population growth in northwest Arkansas has been steady in recent decades, with Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville seeing increases. Marsh said Madison County and Huntsville are being looked at for future projects.
“We seem to be on a lot of peoples’ radar is what I‘ve noticed in the last year and a half,” she said. “There are a lot of people calling. I think people are looking at us.”
A group of geologists from Tulsa purchased the former First National Bank building on Polk Square. After months of inside demolition, the group has looked for potential tenants.
PBH Formation, LLC, paid $76,000 for the two-story building, which was constructed in 1890.
The same group entered into a lease with the city for part of the Basham building, a century-old structure that has been vacant for years on Polk Square.
“I think they’re kind of like a diamond in the rough. I think both of them have a lot of potential,” Marsh said of the buildings.
“I think they’ve [geologists] got lots of ideas, it just comes down to what they’re really going to do.”
Jesse and Ashlyn Gagnon of Fayetteville approached the city council last year about putting a brewery and tap room in the Basham building.
The couple later decided against the plan, but recently told The Record that they are still looking at Madison County.
“First off, we have thoroughly enjoyed all of our interactions with the people of Huntsville and Madison County,” they wrote in an email message.
“We think there are some really great things in store for the Huntsville community as a whole and we hope to still be a part of its future in some form or fashion down the road, although we don’t know exactly what that will entail at this moment.”
The couple said the Basham building “requires a far bigger investment than we previously expected. We recognize the iconic value of the location and see a lot of potential there. However, the age and condition of the building will require far more capital than our small business plan can responsibly commit. Our hope for the brewery is to start small, work within our means and grow at a sustainable pace to ensure delivery of the highest quality product possible.”
The Gagnons wrote that “As we push forward with the plans for our business, we continue to look in your general direction, for we feel that the hills east of Fayetteville are indeed the heart of the Ozarks. We are working to acquire land where we can build a rural, ‘farmhouse’ brewery that will hopefully be a community-building hub for many in your area.”
Marsh said various ideas have been discussed about the old bank and Basham buildings.
“You hear all kinds of ideas, you never know what will happen.”
The Economic Development Commission next will meet at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 12, at the Arvest Bank Annex.