According to businessman Mat Faulkner, he is seeking to become Searcy’s next mayor because his faith drives his desire to serve.
Faulkner is running in the Nov. 8 general election against Mayor Kyle Osborne, Searcy Police Department Sgt. Jason McGlawn and Searcy High School English teacher. The other three candidates have been previously featured by The Daily Citizen about their candidacy.
Faulkner, who founded Searcy Beats and Eats and the Think Art Project, said his faith is at the heart of his decision to take on this new challenge.
“I have seen what is possible when our community pulls in one direction with a common vision,” he said. “We experienced it during our collective effort to win the Small Business Revolution. It was inspiring to see residents and businesses helping each other and our community take pride in itself. I believe that experience was just a glimpse of what is possible by working together.”
Searcy was chosen through nationwide voting in 2019 to be the featured city on Season 4 of the online reality show “Small Business Revolution – Main Street,” which focused on marketing makeovers for six small businesses. Faulkner submitted the application that resulted in Searcy making the top 20 for the show from among more than 12,000 applicants.
“Searcy is in a position to make great strides,” Faulkner said. “We are at the onset of the development of a 20-year plan, which will create the vision and pathway for Searcy for our kids and grandkids.”
Faulkner said a lady recently walked up to him and said, “You don’t know me, but I’m excited to see you are running for mayor. I’d love to see my kids and grandkids move back to Searcy and raise their family here so we can be close to them.”
He said the woman “hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly why I’m running.”
Even though Faulkner has lived in Searcy for around 24 years, he said he was born in Beaumont Texas, and is the second oldest of five children.
“Growing up, our family moved around quite a bit,” Faulkner said. “Each of us were born in a different state. When we were young, my parents separated and for part of our childhood years, my mom raised all five of us on her own, always working two to three jobs at a time. She met and married Todd Faulkner, a grocery store manager in Las Cruces, NM, and he instantly had a new wife with five kids in tow.”
From Las Cruces, Faulkner said his family moved to League City, Texas, then to College Station, Texas, then to Port Orange, Fla., and eventually to Brandon, Fla., outside of Tampa. “That’s where I spent most of my high school years.”
“We didn’t have much growing up, but as kids we didn’t realize it,” he said. “A strong work ethic was instilled in me at a young age. We learned how to make a dollar stretch. Between my freshman and sophomore year in high school, my stepdad adopted all five of us and we gained the last name Faulkner.”
During high school, Faulkner said he earned 17 varsity letters in five sports and also took part in theater and television productions. He worked several jobs as a teenager, including being a carwash tech, a retail associate and a summer intern for a general contractor.
In 1998, Faulkner moved to Searcy to attend Harding University, where he majored in communication management. He said the major combined business and communication. While there, he “walked on and played baseball under Coach Shane Fullerton and was also involved with theater and Spring Sing.”
Faulkner said he met his wife Shelley (Lawson) before the first day of classes at an “introductory meeting for students.”
“We found ourselves in a speech class together and eventually I ended up sitting next to her,” he said. “Before long, we were insaparable. We declared the same major, so we had many classes together. Shelly was born and raised in Searcy.”
Mat said they got engaged on New Year’s Eve 1999 at Clearwater Beach in Florida and married in Searcy on July 1, 2000, while they were still students at Harding. He got a job as assistant technical director for the theater department at Harding and built sets for Spring Sing, putting his experience in construction to use.
Faulkner said being a student and a staff member kept him busy, but it “helped pay our tuition as a young married couple.”
While at Harding, Faulkner said he also taught himself to use design software and started providing service to friends and contacts on the side. “One of my first paid projects was designing packaging for Jeff Smith, the inventor of the Trout Magnet, and a friend from church. He was just getting into Walmart stores at the time.”
He said he also had the opportunity to design marketing pieces for White County Medical Center, where Shelley was interning in the marketing department.
Faulkner graduated in December 2002 and started a freelance design studio from the home laundry room. He said he was officially in business in January 2003. For four years, he worked as a freelancer and then grew out of the “laundry room.”
An office was added to the house and the garage was enclosed to create a larger office. Two employees were hired, and the business grew into “a full service agency for the next 10 years,” according to Faulkner.
In 2014, the Faulkners purchased the Robbins Sanford mercantile building with hopes of renovating the top floor to relocate their agency. The bottom part was the Grand Hall event venue. They renovated the top floor, completing it in 2017, and that is where their agency moved. “Think Idea Studio, downtown,” Faulkner said. “It was the fulfillment of a dream.”
In his past 20 years in small business as an owner, Faulkner said his business has worked with more than 2,000 companies and organizations, a lot of them from the Searcy area. Non-profits and churches also have been provided service.
“Our mantra is ‘big impact,’ and I believe in the importance of using our time on earth to make a big impact for the Lord, for our families and for our communities,” he said. “Being involved with these efforts that helped build my passion for service.”
Faulkner said he has served on many boards, committees and initiatives, including the Searcy Regional Economic Development Corp., Searcy Regional Chamber of Commerce, Jacob’s Place Homeless Mission, Searcy Beats and Eats and the Think Art Project.
The saying “Bloom where you are planted” is one that hits home for Faulkner. “Searcy is home. I’ve lived in Searcy for 24 years. It is the longest I have ever lived in one place. It is where we have built a home, a business and where we are raising our three boys, Easton 17, Lawson, 14, and Jace, 12.”
Shelley teaches fourth grade at Southwest Middle School and they are actively involved with their church, school activities and recreational sports leagues, he said.
Focusing on his priorities, Faulkner said he got them from speaking with “numerous Searcy citizens.” and they are “community development, economic development and quality of life.”
Under community development, Faulkner said that quality community service comes from evaluating public safety personnel and city employees and rewarding them with competitive pay and benefits “while clearly communicating an expectation of excellence in our service to Searcy citizens.”
Ensuring that each department has the technology, equipment, training and resources necessary to perform their duties at the highest level is part of that effort, he said.
“It is imperative we provide consistent, accessible and transparent communication both internally among departments and externally with the community,” Faulkner said. “We can also accomplish great things through strategic collaborations among schools, businesses, nonprofits and community organizations.”
Turning to economic development, Faulkner said one of the most pressing needs is filling the hundreds of “currently available jobs with a qualified workforce.” He said he is an advocate for innovative approaches to workforce development and training and said he believes there is a great opportunity to develop Searcy as a hub for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and robotics.
“I believe there’s more potential to develop an ecosystem that promotes and supports entrepreneurism through strategic partnerships,” Faulkner said. “Through the development of innovative training and recruiting initiatives, we can fill existing openings and recruit new business and industry. We can’t overlook the importance of developing and implementing a multifaceted branding and marketing strategy for our community to assist with relocation, recruitment and tourism.”
On “quality of life,” Faulkner said he has an understanding of the importance of it and its significance to residents and attracting new businesses.
“I have had the opportunity to travel around the state representing Searcy and speaking to other communities on the topic of placemaking and how the arts and culture can positively impact revitalization and economic development,” he said. “We need to lean into what makes Searcy unique as we tell our story.
“We have seen the success of Art Alley, downtown murals and Citizen Park. We need to expand citywide beautification and preservation efforts and make improvements to connectability through walkways, bikeways and transit options. Searcy has heart. There are many who are willing to serve when there is a need. We can do even more to help those in need by providing and organized approach to volunteerism and community engagement.”
Faulkner said he loves living in Searcy, loves the people and loves collaborating to create opportunities for the community to gather and strengthen relationships.
“I want to be a proponent of positivity and encouragement,” he said. “I will continue to serve Searcy to the best of my ability regardless if I am elected to this role. I believe we can achieve more, serve more, help more people and create a beautiful, safe, unique and fun place to raise our families.”