GRAVETTE -- The regular meeting of the Greater Gravette Chamber of Commerce was held Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 17, at the Billy V. Hall Senior Activity Center. The meeting featured a panel discussion with owners of several area construction trades businesses. Panel participants were Rocky Barker, of Heartland Electric; Ruben Bass, of Bassman Plumbing; Chris Flynt, of Built-Well Construction; and Jeff Hendren, of H&K Heating & Air.
Chamber president Steve Harari introduced each business owner and commented that the construction trades have faced unprecedented times and owners are sailing "uncharted waters" in recent months with high inflation, material shortages and labor shortages all affecting their businesses.
Barker said Heartland Electric has been in business about eight years. It does mostly commercial and industrial work. The housing market has been strong, he said, with lots of new construction. The biggest problem he has faced in recent months has been a shortage of doors.
Bass said he started Bassman Plumbing about 25 years ago after moving here from California. The firm does both residential and commercial plumbing service and septic, so work is abundant but labor is hard to find and PVC fittings and pipes have also been hard to obtain recently. He said he has been told there is a six-month wait on windows and he cannot safely leave his tools and equipment in an unsecured building, so it has been difficult to finish some jobs.
Flynt said Built-Well Construction has been in business 35 years. It does commercial construction, interior and exterior framing, so it stays busy. The firm employs about 80 people full-time and around 40 temporary workers.
Hendren said he started H&K Heating & Air in 1999, concentrating at first on all new construction and later transitioned more to service so the business now does approximately 60% service work and 40% new construction. About 70% of the business is for residential customers but manpower is limited so "labor charges are not going away."
Harari said that Gravette has challenges of its own. The town is faced with significant potential growth with the opening of the bypass and available homes are limited for the growing community. The shift in population growth seems to be moving west, he said, so new jobs will be created in the area. He asked the business representatives present to address this issue.
Hendren said lack of infrastructure is his primary concern. Builders find many areas where there is no sewer service. so lot sizes must be expanded to accommodate septic systems which means the cost of the lot will be higher. He is also concerned with the increase in truck traffic since the bypass has opened and its effect on area roads. Housing will take care of itself, he believes, as the demand for more housing will drive builders to cause it to happen.
Flynt said many residents would like to see Gravette remain the same, so they are concerned about random growth. He said he works with the Rural Development Authority, dealing with water projects, and said residents can steer where they want housing to be built based on available water and sewer. He suggested it is best to try to steer growth rather than be reactive to it. Hendren interjected, recommending that the best way to do this is to work with the local planning commission.
Bass said he is also concerned with a lack of proper infrastructure and says he wonders if there will come a time when builders will no longer have buyers. As costs of materials and labor continue to rise, he feels there may be a breaking point where buyers will not make wages high enough to pay for new homes.
Barker said he moved here to get away from Rogers and Bentonville and he liked the Gravette school system. He said, "We have to keep up with growth" and predicted things won't slow down any time soon. He said he also felt there might be a point where people will stop spending money on houses. Bass said that is unlike the current situation where "now we can just about take our pick of jobs."
Harari asked the businessmen about hiring procedures, and Flynt said Built-Well is always hiring and it pays referral bonuses after six months to persons who send good employees. However, some workers fail to last six months.
Hendren said people working in the trades can make a good living, but some new hires from the local career center and Northwest Technical Institute drop out when they realize how much work is involved. He said most have to spend two years in training after their classroom work and he often sends employees to Little Rock and Dallas for training since technology is always changing. He requires resumes from all potential employees and says they can be sent by email but he is looking for workers who will fit in with his current crew.
Flynt said potential workers can come by the office and fill out an application form. A superintendent filters applicants and about 50% go on to new hire screening and orientation.
Bass said he will consider hiring anyone who calls but some don't last long. Requiring a drug test weeds out many potential employees, he said, and some leave because they expect more money.
A resultant discussion suggested that perhaps some mental training is needed for students, as well as hands-on training in the trades, to make them aware of the competition in the field and combat an attitude of entitlement.
In other business at the meeting, Harari announced that JW Smith of Smith & Betts Barbecue has accepted the vacant position of vice-president of the chamber. He reminded members that Wednesday, Dec. 15, is the date for the Chamber's annual meeting where officers will be elected and the 2022 budget will be reviewed.
Harari announced that the annual Chamber Gala is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 3, at Legacy Ranch. The theme is "Boots & Bowties." Tickets are available for $55 for an individual and $400 for a table. Nominations are being accepted for Chamber member of the year, Citizen of the year, Business of the year, and Pioneer of the year. Nominations will be accepted through Nov. 30 and voting will occur from Dec. 6 through Jan. 21.
Harari also said a mobile app for the Greater Gravette Chamber is being developed and will launch in February. He also reminded members that the next Chamber After Hours will be Thursday, Dec. 2, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Pet Pop on Gravette Main Street.