By Ed Felton
From the March/April 2015 issue
Centered between Canada and Mexico, and located in the middle of the United States, Arkansas is strategically placed to reach tens of millions of people easily and cost efficiently. Its unemployment rate consistently ranks below the national average and 44 campuses of higher learning results in an educated workforce enriched by long-term training and primed for 21st Century challenges.
With its central location and comprehensive transportation infrastructure, it’s not surprising that Arkansas has a large and growing distribution and logistics services sector. In fact, Arkansas is home to two transportation/trucking companies on Fortune magazine’s list of the largest 1,000 companies in the United States, based on annual revenue—J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. and ArcBest.
The top 25 largest employers in Arkansas represent a wide variety of industries. Twenty percent of them are in the transportation services sector, including J.B. Hunt, USA Truck, FedEx Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad and PAM Transportation Services.
Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) is Arkansas’s largest commercial service airport, serving approximately 2.2 million passengers annually. With more than 116 departures at Little Rock each day, and non-stop jet service to 16 national/international gateway cities, Little Rock is truly one stop away from the world.
In addition to commercial aircraft, Clinton National serves general aviation/private aircraft, with two fixed base operators (FBOs) on the field, Central Flying Service and Supermarine. With 21 hangars on 77 acres, Central is the nation’s largest fixed base operation and offers a huge paint and interior refurbishing shop, non-destructive testing and sheet metal fabrication.
Intermodal freight facilities in Arkansas include the riverports at Little Rock, Pine Bluff and Van Buren. Regional intermodal freight facilities authorities in Arkansas include Blytheville-Mississippi County, Northeast Arkansas, River Valley, Western Arkansas, Southwest Arkansas and Southeast Arkansas.
Arkansas’s diverse industrial base provides an ample supply of experienced manufacturing workers. The manufacturing sector accounts for 13 percent of the state’s jobs. Throughout the years the sector has shifted from agriculture-based to light manufacturing to more sophisticated processes and products such as advanced food packaging, transportation equipment and primary and fabricated metals.
The Existing Workforce Training Program (EWTP) provides financial assistance to Arkansas’s eligible businesses for upgrading the skills of the existing workforce to adapt to new or altered technologies and/or acquire new skills needed to remain competitive and economically viable. Training is for full-time, permanent employees who work at least 30 hours a week and are subject to Arkansas’s personal income tax. Reimbursements are calculated according to a set of scoring criteria.
Workforce development is a priority of the state’s two-year colleges and technical institutes, which work with local businesses and industries to meet existing and new workforce needs. More than 95 percent of the state’s population lives within a 30-mile radius of one of these institutions. Relying on extensive employer involvement, the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges developed the Workforce Readiness Curriculum. The association’s Workforce Consortium serves more than 2,100 Arkansas businesses each year.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS IN ARKADELPHIA
Companies looking to locate in Arkansas can find a business-friendly community just an hour south of the state’s capital Little Rock on Interstate 30. Arkadelphia and Clark County offer a quality of life and business-friendly environment unmatched anywhere in Arkansas, according to Stephen Bell, president/CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance.
“We want our businesses to make a profit. Our job is to help increase their profit so they can add jobs,” said Bell. “We want to help make them successful.”
County voters have twice approved a half-cent sales tax for economic development—most recently in 2014. The measure passed with 70 percent approval. Clark County is one of only two counties in Arkansas with such a tax. This allows the county to offer valuable business incentives not available in most of the state.
“I think the vote on the economic development tax that passed with over 70 percent of the vote showed the entire community is committed to economic development,” said Bell.
Arkadelphia offers an attractive location on Interstate 30 and U.S. Highway 67, and includes access to the Union Pacific mainline railroad. The Clark County Industrial Park is just four miles south of Arkadelphia in Gum Springs and has hundreds of acres available for new industry. The area has a population of more than 250,000 within a 50-mile radius and is within a day’s drive of 52 percent of the nation’s population.
Bell said a recent announcement by Georgia-Pacific that the company will invest $37 million in the Gurdon lumber mill is one of the biggest industry announcements in recent years.
“This will increase the capacity of the plant by 60 percent,” he said. “The Economic Development Corporation of Clark County has pledged $500,000 in local incentives. Part of that includes $250,000 to upgrade the sewer treatment plant at the City of Gurdon.”
The Arkadelphia Poultry Plant, a division of Hillstern Farms, started operations in late 2014 with 40 employees and expects to eventually expand to 170. Bell said the EDCCC has provided $250,000 in local incentives.
Bell said the county is also working to build a transload facility in Gum Springs. He said a $1 million Economic Development Administration grant was recently approved for the project.
“This will be a truck to rail spur in conjunction with Union Pacific Railroad,” Bell said. “This line to the industrial park will allow companies to load from the truck to the track or from the track to the truck.”
Arkadelphia is a natural location for business development. The community has two universities—Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University. “Few communities this size have two great four-year universities,” Bell said. “That makes an impression when you are recruiting for industry. Then we have the interstate, DeGray Lake, several major banks, and four foundations call Arkadelphia home.”
He added, “The colleges are growing and investing in their campuses. Henderson is building new dorms and apartments, and across the street at Ouachita is the new Cliff Harris Stadium and an updated department of visual arts.”
Known as the “School with a Heart,” Henderson State University has produced numerous Rhodes, Fulbright and Rotary International scholars.
It serves as Arkansas’ only member of the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. Currently, degree programs are offered through the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Education, and the Graduate School. Henderson has its own degree program in nursing. The university offers the state’s only four-year Bachelor of Science degree in aviation. Henderson has an enrollment of 3,500 students.
Ouachita Baptist University is known for fostering a love of God and a love of learning. The school focuses on undergraduate programs in the liberal arts. It offers 64 degree programs in eight academic schools. Most students earn a Bachelor of Arts, but the school also offers Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Music, and Bachelor of Fine Arts programs. Study abroad programs are offered through the Center for International Studies. Two classes in religion are part of the core curriculum and graduation requires seven credits of chapel (earned by regular chapel attendance during a semester).
Thanks to Henderson and Ouachita, Arkadelphia provides cultural events and activities found in most university towns. Once you’ve located your business in Clark County, there is plenty for you and your employees to do.
Arkadelphia is home to 13,000-acre DeGray Lake State Park. The lake is one of the state’s “Diamond Lakes” known for their crystal clear water. DeGray Lake provides fishing, swimming, water skiing, and other water-sport activities for area residents. The lake is also home to bald eagles, which are regularly sighted around the lake. Arkadelphia also includes the Caddo River and Ouachita River. The Caddo River has become a popular river to float and attracts thousands of tourists each year.
The Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance is business-friendly. “We want to spread that message to other industries in Arkansas and across the country—if you locate in Clark County, you will have a business advocate here at the alliance,” Bell said. “We have a great professional staff here that works full time. Economic development is a full-time job in this county.”