The 77th Annual Newport Area Chamber of Commerce Banquet will be held Thursday, Feb. 28 at the Newport Country Club. The event will begin with a social hour at 5 p.m. Dinner starts at 6 p.m. at which time a short auction will be held as a 2013 Chamber fundraiser. Annual awards will be given following dinner including the small business, large business and citizen of the year.

Dr. Chuck Welch, president of the Arkansas State University System, will be the guest speaker. Dr. Welch officially began his new position on April 23, 2011. He previously served as President of Henderson State University, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at Arkansas State University‐Beebe and Dean of University Studies at Pulaski Technical College. Welch also worked at UALR and has served as an instructor of education and political science at three different colleges in Arkansas. He is the youngest person to ever serve as president or chancellor of an Arkansas community college, is currently the youngest college president in Arkansas, and is believed to be the youngest college president in the United States. Dr. Welch is a native of Jonesboro, Arkansas and was a first-generation college student. In fact, he was the first member of either side of his extended family to receive a graduate degree. Welch received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of Arkansas where he served as president of the student body. He received a Master of Arts degree in political management from George Washington University, and a doctor of education degree in higher education administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Dr. Welch also has considerable experience in the governmental affairs arena. He served as a White House intern and also served on the staffs of Senator David Pryor and then-Representative Blanche Lincoln while he earned his graduate degree. Welch is active in numerous higher education activities. He currently serves on the executive committee of the Arkansas Association of Public Universities, is a past president of the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges, is a board member for the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, and was recently inducted into the Arkansas Boys State Hall of Fame. In 2005, Arkansas Business selected Welch to 40 Under 40, which profiled 40 “intriguing business and political leaders under age 40.” He also has been active in the communities where he has worked, serving on a variety of local and regional boards and committees. Dr. Welch and his wife Mandy are the proud parents of three daughters–Wheatley Grace, Emma Caroline, and Ava Claire. Cost to attend the banquet is $25 per person and is open to the public. Tickets will not be given, however pre-payment is mandatory in order to reserve your seat. RSVP at the Chamber office at (870) 523-3618 or email The Newport Area Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the City of Newport and Jackson County by cultivating community involvement, encouraging business alliances, nurturing the growth and development of new and existing businesses, and creating educational opportunities for community youth.