Revisiting Conway (Gwen Moritz's Editor's Note)

I was born in what my mother still calls the "new" Conway Memorial Hospital. That's because a new hospital had been built in the six and a half years since she had last given birth. I visited my birthplace a couple of weeks ago, and I wonder if Mom, who left Faulkner County 40 years ago, would recognize any of what is now called Conway Regional Medical Center.

John Robbins, CEO of CRMC, has a pretty sweet deal there. He and Stephen Mansfield, CEO of St. Vincent Health System in Little Rock, are both products of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. of Memphis. But unlike Mansfield, Robbins never had to deal with being excluded from the Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield network and has felt no particular effect from the adoption of the "any willing provider" law.

That nursing shortage that Mansfield faces in Little Rock — the one that set the stage for unionization of the St. Vincent nursing staff — isn't much of a concern for Robbins, either. The University of Central Arkansas is spitting distance from CRMC and provides a steady stream of newly trained RNs, and there is no other hospital in the county competing for large numbers of them.

Recruiting top-flight doctors has been relatively easy, too, Robbins told me. They like the fact that Conway is a "five-minute" city — from home to hospital to school to soccer field. Of course, Conway's explosive growth and inadequate infrastructure are already starting to slow things down.


CRMC's development director, Lori Ross, gave me a thorough tour that included the nearby rehab facility and the wellness center, which has some 6,000 members. Watching other people use the treadmills and ellipticals made me hungry, so Lori and I had lunch at Mike's Place, the first restaurant in Conway with a private club permit to serve alcohol.

It's so controversial that we had a hard time finding a parking place in walking distance, even though it was well past the noon hour.

Nice place, good meal. A half-dozen uniform-wearing emergency medical technicians at the next table were discussing the plans for Michelangelo's, an Italian restaurant that the Mike's Place investors are planning to open in the century-old Halter Building on Oak and Front streets.

Regular readers of this column know that I am no admirer of this state's system of wet and dry counties — especially since the law is designed to protect the status quo for the benefit of the liquor industry. But neither have I bought into the city of Conway's official argument that being located in a dry county is a detriment to economic development. Conway's economy is anything but stagnant, and Bryant and Benton in dry Saline County and Cabot in dry Lonoke County are all booming. And Benton County, the very center of the economic development universe, is nominally dry as well.

I do think that the voters in Faulkner County and every other county should have a chance to decide for the first time since the introduction of television whether they want more places like Mike's.


When I was a kid, my cousins lived on Augusta Street in Conway in a big, white colonial with massive magnolia trees in the backyard. During my recent visit, I made a point of driving west to see some of the new residential development I've been hearing about.

My mental image of Conway neighborhoods has changed forever.