Conway Young Professionals held a luncheon at the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

CYP is an organization for people 21 to 40 employed at a member business of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce. Vice Chairman Aaron Beard said, "We want to create an environment for the young professional community that fosters professional development and a productive career. We also are organizing to help benefit local nonprofits and to build a volunteer force."

He said CYP will provide social networking opportunities for young professionals and will seek to benefit chamber member businesses through their young employees. 

"We also want to create an environment that helps them retain those young employees in Conway," he said. "Several big employers like Acxiom and HP came to the Chamber and wanted to create (a young professionals group) to help keep people in Conway once they graduate."

The group was established in February.

Brad Lacy, president and CEO of the chamber and the Conway Development Corporation, gave an overview of the two organizations.

The chamber was founded in 1890 and is one of the oldest and largest in the state, he said. It helped recruit the University of Central Arkansas and early industry to Conway. In 1959, the chamber spun off the CDC for economic development. The CDC’s role is to bring jobs to Conway, he said. It does its work by owning land and representing the city in economic development projects. 

"The airport is an example of how we partnered with the city to do things the city can’t do on its own and do it faster," he said. The CDC started the process on the city’s behalf 10 years ago of researching where an airport could be located. When one site was determined to be viable, the CDC bought 700 acres and held it for 10 years. This year the CDC will sell it to the city, he said.

"It’s almost like a land bank for the city," he said.

He noted for most of the history of the CDC, it was headed up by the same person as the chamber. In 1990, that changed for several years, but in recent years, the chamber has been reorganized.

Lacy said the chamber has three goals, economic development and job creation; government affairs and advocacy; and education.

Regarding education, Lacy discussed the fact that Toad Suck Daze, a chamber program, is a scholarship festival that has raised more than $1 million in scholarships. 

He noted the Hewlett-Packard project was an economic development effort that involved both the chamber and the CDC working together. Bringing more jobs to Conway is the most important thing the chamber can do, he said, and the addition of HP and the Southwestern Energy headquarters to Conway will provide an extra $77 million in payroll in the future.

Regarding government affairs and advocacy, Lacy said one thing the chamber has been working on is the southern interchange, which will be the southern terminus of the Conway loop, a $28 million project. Jamie Gates, vice president of government affairs at the CDC, said the interchange has much support in the Legislature as well as from the state’s federal delegation. He said it has progressed from being 20 years away from only four years away. He said he believes the project will go to bid in one year and will be complete in the fall of 2013.

Also Tuesday, Mike Kraft of the Conway Advertising and Promotion Commission discussed the purpose and processes of that organization, and Kim Williams, director of the Conway Downtown Partnership, discussed the revitalization of downtown.

Following the luncheon, Lindsey Davenport of Conway said, "I thought it was interesting learning about the interchange and the airport. I’m very proud of the chamber. I’m glad to be living in a town where they care about growth."

Ashley Gardner of Conway said, "I thought it was interesting to learn what different organizations are working to make our community grow. Conway’s seen huge growth lately, and it’s nice to finally see who’s behind that."

For more information on CYP, go to the Facebook page at facebook.com/ChamberCYP, or e-mail CYP@ConwayArkansas.org.

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)