Arkansas: Creating Competitive Communities

A new Competitive Communities Initiative in Arkansas aims to make locations across the state even more attractive for new and expanding businesses.

By the BF Staff
From the January/February 2019 Issue

Whether a company is expanding or conducting a location analysis for a new location, each are looking for similar attributes in a community: a real estate option that meets their needs, appropriate infrastructure, a favorable business climate, access to a skilled workforce, and support from state and local officials.

The State of Arkansas understands these needs, which is why we operate the way businesses do. We also know that many factors go into making a community and state the right fit. By continuing to improve upon quality of life—raising teacher pay and improving pre-k access for all students, lowering taxes, providing additional funding for public safety officers, all while maintaining a balanced budget—Arkansas is making its communities stronger and better prepared for economic development opportunities.

It’s the reason why Arkansas has been a leader in economic development for more than half a century. Part of Arkansas’ latest plan to make communities even more attractive for new and expanding businesses—the Competitive Communities Initiative (CCI)—is up and running with great success.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said when the program launched in 2018, “We don’t just want to compete, we want to win. My top priority is to grow the economy of this state, to create jobs, and for Arkansas to enter a time of sustained economic power and influence.”

CCI is the result of a strategic plan with input from communities, site selection consultants, utilities, and other stakeholders, and requires communities to assess and provide information to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) for evaluation.

“This is a robust program that was carefully created to make the most of the assets we have in each of our communities,” said Mike Preston, AEDC executive director. “In communities large and small, there are assets and strengths that make Arkansas a desirable location for expansion and relocation. Through the Competitive Communities Initiative, we are poised to become the standard by which other states are measured.”

The CCI evaluation begins with a local economic development organization’s commitment to complete within 45 days an initial questionnaire detailing existing workforce, available and shovel-ready sites, funding sources and information from the community’s economic development organization.

Best practices in the field of economic development were used to determine the standards for the Competitive Communities Initiative. A structured and funded economic development organization that has the support of the business community is imperative. Additionally, there must be a skilled workforce ready to fill jobs and a pipeline of ready workers in the future. Finally, in order to obtain the CCI designation, a community must have a shovel-ready, certified site that takes the risks and guesswork out of planning for growth.

An evaluation team including AEDC and partnering organizations uses the provided information to help communities better understand any gaps or weaknesses that could negatively affect economic growth. With assistance from all stakeholders, communities can begin creating an action plan to improve areas that are lacking in their economic development efforts. Once the four pillars are up to standard, a community will be designated through the program as a Competitive Community.

The designated CCI communities vary in location, size, industrial base and funding streams for economic development, but each has committed to focus their resources on making their community the best it can be for prospective businesses to locate.

“Paragould has been a part of community development programs in the past, but this initiative is different in that it has made us take a good hard look at not only our community strengths but also our weaknesses,” said Sue McGowan, director of economic development for the Paragould Regional Chamber of Commerce. “By providing insight on how we can reduce those weaknesses—and hopefully turn them into strengths—we feel that Paragould is now better equipped to compete for economic development projects.”

Jon Chadwell, Newport Economic Development Commission executive director, said, “We believe that Newport has the pieces to be a great location for new and expanding businesses, and Competitive Communities helped us make all of those pieces fit so that we can complete the puzzle.”

When he first took office four years ago, one of Gov. Hutchinson’s priorities was to streamline the state’s start-up, relocation and expansion processes for business. He immediately took steps to remove administrative and regulatory obstacles that industry and business often consider unnecessarily burdensome. [This section was written by Clint O’Neal.]


The 7,000 acres known as Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith, AR that were once part of an Army base are now referred to as, “the gold standard in economic development,” having attracted $1.6 billion in capital investments. Today, 1,600 developable acres remain available. Twice recognized as the Base Redevelopment Project of the Year by the Association of Defense Communities, Chaffee Crossing has been the driving force behind economic development in the western part of the state.

Competitive Communities
The HUB is a new $11-million development at Chaffee Crossing in east Fort Smith, AR that offers 8,800 square feet of commercial space adjacent to townhouses, apartments and restaurants. (Source: Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority)

Sixteen international, national, regional and corporate headquarters have made Chaffee Crossing their home, including ArcBest Corporation, Walther Arms, Umarex USA, Phoenix Metals, Mars PetCare, Glatfelter, and Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. Long known for its well-trained workforce, Arkansas’ second largest city has a reputation for being a manufacturing center. With the introduction of the new medical college and upgraded military missions, new target industries for now include medical research and development, transportation, technology and military-related businesses in addition to advanced manufacturing.

Magnets for technology-based development are the Arkansas Air National Guard 188th Wing mission using remotely piloted aircraft with joint use of Razorback Range, a military target range in the middle of the 65,000 acre Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center (Arkansas Army National Guard). Rail access and close proximity to the Arkansas River make this an ideal location for military training and related product/technology development.

A complete infrastructure package supports development in Chaffee Crossing. Fort Smith is located at the intersection of Interstates 40 and 49 with Arkansas River ports, Class I rail lines, and a commercial regional airport minutes away. Job creation is at 3,600 and growing. The $12 million relocation project of Hwy. 255 through Chaffee Crossing beginning in 2020 will provide a new, safer route for motorists with improved accessibility to Chaffee Crossing developments. Port expansion and I-49 expansion projects are currently under consideration, furthering the connectivity of this market in the center of the nation. Abundant and low-cost utilities (electricity, natural gas, water) have made this a desirable city for big industry.

Medical research and development will complement the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, a non-profit, privately owned and operated university that sits on a 228-acre campus in the heart of Chaffee Crossing. The college operates a $3 million research facility in addition to the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine with 150 students per class. A second school scheduled to open in 2022, Arkansas College of Health Sciences, will offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, Physician Assistant and master degree programs for approx. 60 students per enrollment year. The master plan for the campus includes multiple phases of student housing, commercial/retail development ranging from suites to big boxes surrounded by single-family residential units, mountain biking trails, a dog park, a healing and wellness garden, and other recreational amenities.

Other educational opportunities at Chaffee Crossing include University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Commercial Driver Training, Arkansas Tech University-Ozark Cardiology Technology, Van Buren/Fort Smith Plumbing Apprenticeship School, Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing, and Cre8ive Arts Network.

The Chaffee Crossing lifestyle currently is built around 29 residential neighborhoods with a conservative projection of 2,600 units of various styles. Recreational amenities include a golf course, a waterpark, AR Game & Fish Nature Center, fishing lakes, soccer fields, and miles of multi-use and mountain biking trails within a short walk or bike ride. A $3.5 million, 6.5-mile multi-use trail project will soon be under construction throughout the development.

Commercial and retail development are on the rise in Chaffee Crossing. Multiple restaurants and commercial spaces are in various stages of planning and construction. As the residential neighborhoods expand, Fort Smith proper is expanding toward Chaffee Crossing with new businesses. Restaurants, fitness centers, medical services and recreation-oriented retail to complement the outdoor lifestyle of Chaffee Crossing have opened in the past year.

The Chaffee Crossing Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, consists of World War II-era Army barracks and administrative buildings that is becoming a magnet for investment. A master plan for the historic area calls for it to be a walkable district with residential units, shops, entertainment venues and restaurants. Buildings within the National Register listing area provide opportunities for investors to apply for rehabilitation tax credits. Currently there are museums, a microbrewery, and a variety of commercial, retail and service businesses in the rehabilitated buildings. A $3.5 million warehouse rehab includes restaurants, and other lease spaces. At the heart of the historic district is the Chaffee Crossing Barbershop where Elvis Presley received his first G.I. buzz cut, the Museum of Chaffee History and the Chaffee Crossing Veterans Memorial.