Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.
Building and maintaining relationships are important elements in any business model. In the profession of economic development, relationship-building means keeping in touch with local community members, business leaders, civic officials, and industry executives — in addition to all the “external” contacts that are a component of the trade.
All of these groups can be allies in efforts to move a community forward. In Jefferson County, with its traditionally large number of manufacturing operations, it’s seen by the Economic Development Alliance as vital that the industrial sector of the economic base be actively supported through personal contacts and visits. As previously discussed in this column, these industry visits are part of the Alliance’s business retention and expansion (BR&E) program.
According to the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, Jefferson County had an average manufacturing employment of 4,962 workers for the first quarter of 2016 (the most current data available). These employees were working in 60 “establishments” and had an average weekly wage of $967.
Total wages from manufacturing companies have a tremendous economic impact on Pine Bluff and the surrounding area. Reason enough that at least one annual personal contact by the Alliance is attempted with each local management team in order to reinforce previously established connections. Usually there are more than one yearly contact. And calling attention to these visits helps emphasize the interdependence of those industries and this community’s economic vitality.
From January through September 2016, Alliance staff members visited or spoke personally with executives of 47 local industries. One of the most recent visits was on September 29 when Lou Ann Nisbett, Alliance president, and Caleb McMahon, director of economic development, paid a visit to Tyson’s Jefferson Parkway operations in Jefferson Industrial Park.
Tyson Foods is Jefferson County’s top industrial employer with more than 1,400 total workers at several locations in Pine Bluff. It started operations in the industrial park in early 1991 and later made a substantial expansion there. Nisbett noted during her conversation with local executives that the Jefferson Parkway facilities are so well maintained they looks new. She also learned that the facility had other visitors recently, including Tyson’s new president, Tom Hayes.
During the Alliance visit, there were questions about Tyson’s employment levels here, annual payroll, turnover rates, recent upgrades, and plans for future growth. Most of the answers are confidential. What’s not confidential is the community’s appreciation for Tyson’s continuing presence here and its jobs and capital investments. Conveying that appreciation was another reason for the visit.