State Focus: Arkansas – Easy To Reach, Easy To Grow

By Shana Daley
From the March/April 2014 issue

Dassault Falcon Jet plans to increase the size of its plant (pictured above) in Little Rock, AR. Over the next three years, the company will invest $60 million in new construction and the refurbishment of existing facilities. (Credit: Panoramio/mkwintz; inset,
Dassault Falcon Jet plans to increase the size of its plant (pictured above) in Little Rock, AR. Over the next three years, the company will invest $60 million in new construction and the refurbishment of existing facilities. (Credit: Panoramio/mkwintz; inset,

Arkansas offers companies a strong transportation network with intersecting Interstates, rail access and water transportation. That infrastructure, combined with an affordable, qualified workforce and a favorable business climate, make the state an ideal location for businesses wanting to easily move bulk commodities and consumer goods.

In Arkansas, you will find:

  • 1,000 miles of navigable waterways
  • 1,677 miles of Class 1 railroads
  • 16,416 miles of state and U.S. highways

While the population of Arkansas is just under three million, the state offers access to a market of 103 million people within a 550-mile radius of the state. That represents 42 percent of the total U.S. population. Major market centers in the region include: Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Kansas City, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and St. Louis.

Four ports are located along the Arkansas River in Fort Smith, Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pine Bluff. The Arkansas River dissects the state from the northwest to the southeast, while the Mississippi River borders the state’s eastern edge. Ports along the Mississippi River are in Osceola, West Memphis and McGehee. Many of Arkansas’s port locations have railway connections that provide a smooth transition for various modes of transportation and quick delivery.

Interstate 40 is the major east-west thoroughfare reaching from North Carolina to California that runs through Arkansas. Interstate 55 links eastern Arkansas to St. Louis and Chicago to the north and New Orleans to the south, while Interstate 30 connects Arkansas with markets to the southwest, including Texas and Mexico.

Arkansas’s railroad infrastructure includes three Class I systems: Union Pacific, BNSF Railway, and Kansas City Southern Railway. Union Pacific operates major yards in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, along with a locomotive repair facility in North Little Rock. In addition, the state has 22 smaller railroads operating over its more than 2,700 miles of track.

More than 1,600 for-hire motor carriers with interstate operations are based in Arkansas and more than 42,000 Arkansans are employed in trucking and distribution. Among these are two of the nation’s largest trucking companies: J.B. Hunt and ABF Freight Systems. J.B. Hunt is one of the nation’s leading transportation provider and the nation’s largest publicly traded truckload carrier. ABF serves all 50 states and has international operations offering service to 250 ports in more than 130 countries. FedEx Freight East, a less-than-truckload market leader, is based in Harrison, Arkansas.

Available sites in Arkansas range in size from 10 acres to 10,200 acres across the state that could match the needs of a new or expanding business. Advance Arkansas Sites are premium large-acreage sites. Currently there are two: one located in the Little Rock Metro in Central Arkansas and another in West Memphis in Northeast Arkansas. In addition, Arkansas has 40 available sites that are rail served and more than 175 sites with interstate access. Arkansas has more than 275 available industrial buildings, which range from 10,000 to 2.1 million square feet. Nearly 200 of these available industrial buildings have interstate access.

The Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC), working with other state agencies, offers a Career Readiness Certificate to potential employees. Through the Career Readiness Certificate program, potential employees are evaluated and tested so that your business can identify and qualify the most skilled workers. To date, over 54,000 certificates have been awarded to Arkansas workers.


The Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway MSA, with a population of 717,666, consists of Pulaski County, Faulkner County, Saline County, Lonoke County, Perry County and Grant County. Our economic development region (Metro Little Rock Alliance) goes beyond our MSA, representing a 12-county region with a population of over 1,000,000 people reflecting the mobility of our workforce.

Little Rock benefits from a diversified economic base revolving around the following primary industries: advanced manufacturing, aerospace, information technology, medical/healthcare, military and nonprofit. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranked Little Rock no. 1 of America’s 10 Great Places to Live in August 2013.

To attract new industries and accommodate the needs of expanding businesses, the local governments offer attractive and competitive incentive packages, including industrial revenue bond financing which allows for real and personal property tax abatements through PILOT agreements, and a variety of other tax credit and rebate programs. In addition, the Arkansas Freeport Law exempts inventory tax on raw materials, goods in progress, and finished goods bound for out-of-state shipment.

Targeted workforce development curriculum from the region’s community colleges makes advanced manufacturing one of the region’s top employers—both domestic and international.

Metro Little Rock excels when it comes to importing materials and shipping the finished product. Caterpillar, in its first year in the region, built over 1,000 Motor Graders which were sold throughout the world. In 2010, Caterpillar opened a new $140 million motor grader production facility in North Little Rock. Caterpillar moved most of its motor grader production to Central Arkansas in order to increase output, and the new plant has succeeded in competing on a global scale.

L’Oreal Cosmetics’ largest global manufacturing plant is located in Little Rock. The 800,000-square-foot plant is a model of eco-friendly manufacturing. LM Wind Power, based in Denmark, manufactures windmill blades at two locations in the region, including its North American headquarters.

Food processing has a major footprint in Metro Little Rock. Sage V Foods produces frozen and instant rice from its state-of-the-art cooking and freezing plant at the Little Rock Port. Skippy Foods, LLC, owned by Hormel, makes all the world’s Skippy peanut butter at its Little Rock Port facility.

Metro Little Rock has become a mecca for foreign direct investment. Saint Gobain of France, one of the world’s largest industrial companies, made the glass for the Louis XIV’s Palace at Versailles makes ceramic proppants at its 100,000 square-foot facility on 68 acres. India-based Welspun Tubular manufactures steel pipes for the oil and gas industry from its twice-expanded, $290 million, 800-employee, and 700-acre Little Rock Port location.


In 2012, the aerospace sector in Arkansas was an engine for exports in the state. The sector accounted for 24 percent of total export value in Arkansas. The region has in excess of 20 aviation and aerospace-related companies, employing approximately 9,000 workers. Dassault Falcon Jet, the region’s top manufacturing employer and the French company’s largest facility in the world, renewed its lease at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport through 2040. Since its opening in 1975, the Dassault Falcon Jet aircraft completion facility in Little Rock has enjoyed steady growth and turned out more than 1,000 aircraft; it is the primary completion center for all Falcon aircraft. A recent $60 million expansion will increase the facility to 1.25 million square feet to accommodate the completions of new 5X aircraft. Alongside the completion facility is a Dassault service center, where aircraft from all over the world come for maintenance and repairs.

Other aerospace companies in Arkansas include Triumph Group, AAR and Custom Aircraft Cabinets.

With an annual economic impact from military contracts of over $890 million, the region boasts the world’s premier C-130 air force base and an Arkansas National Guard site providing facilities and weapons ranges for all branches of the U.S. armed forces and civil law enforcement agencies.

Little Rock Air Force Base, two-time winner of the Abilene Trophy for Outstanding Community Support for an Air Mobility Command Base, consists of more than 6,000 acres and more than 5,000 active-duty military and civilian members, with 5,500 family members living and working on and around the base. Camp Joseph T. Robinson, on 32,800 acres, is the home of the country’s premier professional development training center and the 189th, the most-decorated Air National Guard Airlift Wing in the nation’s history.


Central Arkansas is one of America’s booming information technology centers, which is one of the many reasons that the world’s major information technology players have chosen to locate in Little Rock and host the nucleus of their network operations within the region.

HP, one of the world’s largest IT companies, employs more than 900 highly skilled people in its state-of-the-art customer service and technical support center. Acxiom, a publicly traded company, is the developer of some of the largest and most sophisticated business intelligence and marketing databases in the world.

Little Rock Technology Park Authority, after years of planning at the state and local levels, appointed its first seven members and has begun plans for developing a 30+-acre Technology Park site connecting the research of University of Arkansas at Little Rock, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

UAMS BioVentures, with commercial successes such as Safe Foods, Omnibalm and eDoc America, translates University of Arkansas for Medical Science research into products that benefit human health. UALR Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology hosted the first International Conference on Information Quality in United States outside of MIT in its new, six-story, 115,000-square-foot world-class research and teaching center.

Other IT employers in Little Rock include AT&T Arkansas, SAIC, Verizon Wireless and Windstream Communications.

The Metro Little Rock Region has a labor force of more than 480,000. The median per capita income for the MSA is $41,662 as compared to $45,875 for Pulaski County, $43,735 for the U.S. and $35,437 for the State of Arkansas, according to 2012 figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. An estimated 38.4 percent of adults in the City of Little Rock have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 29.1 percent for the nation, according to U.S. Census figures. In 1944, the people of Arkansas amended the state Constitution to ensure that all people in Arkansas would have the right to work, regardless of their affiliation or non-affiliation with any type of labor organization.

There are over 4,300 trucking companies located in Arkansas. More than 87 percent of Arkansas communities depend exclusively on trucks to move goods. Some of the nation’s leading trucking companies are headquartered in Arkansas, including J. B. Hunt Transport, ABF Freight System, P.A.M. Transport, USA Truck, Wal-Mart Stores, Tyson Foods, and Maverick Transportation.


With the world’s only Master’s degree in Public Service, strong foreign direct capital investment, and institutions like Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences bringing in world-class talent, Little Rock has become a hub for the location of global nonprofit headquarters.

  • William J. Clinton Foundation, building on President Clinton’s lifetime of public service, established separate initiatives to alleviate poverty, improve global health, strengthen economies and protect the environment.
  • The EAST® Initiative, an education model that focuses on student-driven service projects accomplished with teamwork and cutting edge technology, originated in the region, is in 206 public and charter schools in six states, and was named a model program by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • World Services for the Blind educates adults from all 50 states and 58 foreign countries who are blind or visually impaired for careers and independent lives.
  • Oxford American, which according to The New York Times “may be the liveliest literary magazine in America,” has won three National Magazine Awards—the highest recognition in the industry.
  • Winrock International, from its Gold LEED rated headquarters, links individuals and communities with new ideas and technology to increase long-term productivity, equity and responsible resource management to benefit the poor and disadvantaged of the world.
  • Heifer International, from its Platinum LEED rated world headquarters and restored wetlands, has as its strategy to “pass on the gift” so people will share their animals’ offspring with others—along with their knowledge, resources and skills—in an expanding network of hope, dignity and self-reliance that reaches around the globe.