BY LEANN DILBECK –
The Mena/Polk County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors are finalizing plans for the 2014 Annual Chamber Banquet to be held at the CMA Iron Mountain Facility, April 8. Rex Nelson will be the featured speaker. The Branding Iron will cater a pork tenderloin while Brant Fricker, a pianist performs popular songs from the decades. The Chamber will also be making its annual presentations for the Volunteer of the Year, Citizen of the Year, Best New Construction, Best Beautification/Renovation, and Business of the Year.
Nelson, who is now president of the Arkansas’ Independent Colleges and Universities [AICU], is one of the state’s most high-profile writers and speakers, has had a long career in government, journalism and public affairs. He has been honored through the years by organizations as varied as the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas, the Arkansas Municipal League and the Arkansas chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame.
Nelson writes a weekly column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s largest newspaper, and is the author of the popular Southern Fried blog at www.rexnelsonsouthernfried.com. His feature stories regularly appear in magazines such as Arkansas Life and TBQ.
Nelson earlier served as the senior vice president for government relations and public outreach at The Communications Group, a Little Rock-based marketing, advertising and public relations firm. Prior to that, he spent 13 years working at senior levels of the state and federal governments. He became Gov. Mike Huckabee’s director of policy and communications the day Huckabee took office in July 1996 and was at the governor’s side for almost a decade as a member of the senior management team.
Nelson, who has extensive contacts in Washington, was named by President George W. Bush in 2005 as one of the president’s two appointees to the Delta Regional Authority, a regional planning and economic development agency that serves 252 counties and parishes in parts of eight states. He served at the DRA for almost four years and became a leading spokesman on Delta issues.
Nelson was the political editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette during President Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and Clinton’s first term. He was a constant presence on radio and television shows nationwide to discuss the Clinton administration and wrote a biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton titled “The Hillary Factor.” Nelson earlier had served as the Washington bureau chief and the assistant sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat.
Nelson directs the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Foundation and is the board chairman of Connect Arkansas, an effort to increase broadband coverage and use statewide. He also chairs the Political Animals Club of Little Rock, whose monthly meetings receive widespread media coverage. Nelson serves on the boards of the noted literary quarterly Oxford American, the Little Rock Touchdown Club, the Arkansas Travelers baseball club, the Arkansas Humanities Council and the Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History.
The AICU president is an Arkadelphia native and a summa cum laude graduate of Ouachita Baptist University. He has served as the radio voice of the Ouachita football team for three decades. He and his wife Melissa are the parents of two sons, Austin and Evan.