The about 350 who attended the 57th annual Van Buren Chamber of Commerce banquet saw newspaper veteran Kenneth Fry awarded the prestigious Iverson Riggs Memorial Citizen of the Year Award and heard that Experian is officially adding 100 jobs at its Van Buren call center.
The banquet and business fair was held at the Van Buren High School.
Chris Moore, a supervisor at the Experian call center in Van Buren, said about 450 are now employed at the location, with a little more than 500 expected to be on staff by early fall.
In January the call center celebrated its five-year anniversary in Van Buren. The U.K.-based global information services company employs 17,000 people in more than 44 countries. Its most recent annual income was $1.1 billion.
The Iverson Riggs award was created in 1987 to honor the founder and publisher of the Van Buren Courier newspaper. According to the chamber, it is a special honor that allows the chamber to pay tribute to someone who has “worked tirelessly for the betterment of others.”
Kathy Gifford said Fry, the editor for the Van Buren Press-Argus Courier, “certainly carries on the Iverson Riggs tradition.”
Fry was surprised by the announcement. Because he is accustomed to learning who the award winner is prior to the announcement, he had been told another person was winning.
The chamber also recognized Dean Pendergrass, with Downy Publishing, as the ambassador of the year.
Joe Ryan, a banker with Citizens Bank & Trust and the immediate past board chairman of the Van Buren Chamber, said the past year of highlights for the chamber included being part of the Fort Smith Regional Alliance, hosting 39 ribbon cuttings and having 58 new chamber members.
“Our chamber did make great strides and we did have a lot of new members,” said incoming board chairman Cathy Gifford.
Gifford said during her term as chairman she will ensure the chamber stays focused on economic development, especially with respect to helping grow the regional alliance.
“People don’t look at our community as just Van Buren, they look at us as a region,” Gifford said.
She also said the chamber would continue building relationships with political leaders in Little Rock and Washington D.C.
The evening began at 5 p.m. with a business fair that featured more than 30 exhibitors.