Clinton's impact on Little Rock felt 20 years later

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - It's a milestone anniversary this year for President Clinton's first inauguration. It was 20 years ago, and no matter what you think of his policies, the impact of his Presidency on Little Rock is undeniable.

Almost immediately after Clinton's election, state and city leaders were thinking about the future. Former Mayor Jim Dailey recalls,"We have an opportunity here, we have to market it, we have to make our contacts. We have to accept this possibility that this is a four year term. Fortunately, we had eight years to work with, and fortunately he has stayed with us, well beyond, because that has meant millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars worth of benefit to the community."

Dailey was elected mayor midway through Clinton's first term, and says it was apparent that perceptions of the state were changing.

"I heard it even from companies locally that dealt with vendors from around the United States that previously they were 'Where is Little Rock?' and then after he was elected, it was like, 'oh, yeah. That's where President Clinton's from.' so it did put us on the map," he said.

Knowing where Little Rock was on the map, meant business people, members of the media, and tourists now knew how to get here. Dailey says city leaders began to see the need for an upgrade to the airport.

He says leaders visited airlines to sell the city, which led to more flights.

"That terminal was built for 400,000 enplanements a year. Now, we have over a million enplanements a year," said Kay Arnold, the Clinton Airport Commission chair.

Clinton National is in the middle of a $67,000,000 expansion, due, in part, to increased revenue from more flights out of the terminal. Since Clinton left office, the airport has changed its business model to allow it to keep it's own profit.

"The expansion stands on its own. It might have been different. It might not have been as large. We might not feel that we need, ultimately 16 gates. We might not feel that we have an international component," said Arnold.

But without a doubt, the biggest economic contribution the former President made to his home state, was his $165,000,000 library, that brings in 300,000 visitors every year.

It's been more than eight years since the library opened, with celebrities and national and world leaders in attendance, and since then, it's brought an estimated 2,500,000 in economic development impact to the 16 blocks surrounding the Clinton Center.

"He opened up the door to possibility. City leaders, state tourism leaders, state economic development leaders, have taken advantage of that, and continued to help use that as a tool to bring in more and more people to Arkansas," said Jordan Johnson, the Clinton Foundation Spokesman.

Acxiom Headquarters, Heifer International Headquarter, hotel renovations and construction, all arguably happened because President Clinton decided to build his library here. The center is bringing in world leaders on a regular basis, like the Club de Madrid meeting here in December.

International students come to the Clinton school to study. So much so, there is even consideration of the airport becoming an international terminal.

"Our job is to be ready for that. To be open for that. And to have the infrastructure in place so that if an airline wants to develop an international flight, then we can say yes to that," said Arnold.

Even 12 years after President Clinton left office, Central Arkansas leaders are still thinking about tomorrow thanks to his investment. And who knows:

Three candidates with Arkansas ties have run for President since Mr. Clinton.

If one President could do this much for a state's economy, what could two do??

"Of course I hope there will be another Clinton in the White house. But, I think that's premature. But, that really would be history, wouldn't it," said Arnold.