COVID-19 continues to affect Arkansas County as many planned events have either been postponed or canceled due to the risk of spreading the virus that has yet to have a vaccine.
As of September 19, 2020 Arkansas County has 36 total active cases. Achi.net reports 17 of those cases in Stuttgart alone.
The Wings Over the Prairie Festival organizers made a hard decision to cancel the festival and duck calling contest.
Bethany Hildebrand, Chief Executive Officer of the Stuttgart Chamber of Commerce said this was one of the hardest decisions the Chamber and the Board had to make but the health and safety of the community were much more important.
“The Wings Over the Prairie Festival has been called off for the first time in 84 years due to COVID restrictions,” said Stuttgart’s Economic Coordinator David Leech. “This will hurt our economy and the entire area of Stuttgart.”
Sales tax for the month of August was up, according to Leech compared to last year. With a 13% increase equalling $21,920.34, Leech credits that to internet sales and says local businesses continue to suffer from the pandemic.
“McCollum Hardware in Downtown Stuttgart has closed after 80 years in Stuttgart,” said Leech. “This is a big blow to our town and our downtown. The store had an auction on September 12 and is now empty.”
While some businesses are closing a chapter, others are beginning a new chapter like the Stuttgart Daily Leader, who launched earlier this month with a new and vibrant look to digital news.
“The Daily Leader is now up and running 100% free, 100% online,” said Leech. “Thanks, “E” (In The Loop Stuttgart) for keeping the news coming during this long shut down.”
Dorsey & Company relocated to the old Stuttgart Daily Leader building giving it a makeover on 6th and Main Street and Mr. Pancho’s, under new ownership, has had a facelift with an “Opening Soon” sign up.
According to Leech, the unemployment rate in Stuttgart is under 5% compared to the 7.6% statewide.
“Arkansas County is now an ACT Work Ready Certified Community,” said Leech. “Thank you Jim Craig (former alderman) for your many hours of work on this project.”
Baptist Health Hospital has a new CT scan now in operation. Generators have been purchased for both the hospital and the clinic. The hospital also acquired 14 negative pressure rooms, a new sterilizer, a new ultrasound, and a new portable x-ray machine.
“The Stuttgart Hospital Foundation will have their annual fundraiser on November 10, 2020,” said Leech. “This year’s funds will redo the floors in the surgery wing and the hallways of the hospital.”
New COVID-19 testing machines have been installed at Baptist-Stuttgart ensuring faster results.
While the Stuttgart School District enrollment numbers increased this year, PCCUA-Stuttgart numbers declined. Down 80 high school students and 50 undergraduate students, Leech says the total of 92 is down from the 420 students that were enrolled last year.
“This is COVID related,” said Leech. “Only one two-year school in the state was up with the largest drops on the south side of I-40.”
Besides high-speed internet, Leech said keeping Stuttgart clean is still a big issue.
Both should have resolutions soon as a contract is in order for high-speed internet and several cleanup groups around town are organizing ways to clean up Stuttgart.
A Facebook group called ‘Let’s clean up Stuttgart’ was organized to identify locations within the city that needed attention, with many of the members providing solutions to the problem areas for a cleaner community.
“Trash, high grass, and untrimmed shrubs are still a large problem in our town,” said Leech. “We are doing better, but we have a lot of opportunities.”