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.


A significant increase in overall tonnage and new capital investments were reported earlier this year by Watco Terminal & Port Services to the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority. Watco is operator of the Port Authority’s 20-acre public terminal complex at the port Harbor Industrial District.


Early on, Terminal Manager Mike Murphy reported that 2018 tonnage through the terminal was off to a good start toward breaking the decade-high tonnage number reached in calendar 2017 when total terminal tonnage topped 100,000 tons.


By the end of April, Murphy’s subsequent monthly tonnage reports showed that commodities moved through the terminal had already added up to more than 40,000 tons of cargo, consisting primarily of steel wire rod coils inbound by barge for a local manufacturing company and raw materials received by rail and then trucked to an industrial customer located in Desha County. Additional inbound barge shipments of vermiculite and fertilizers also have been off-loaded at the terminal.


After a record amount of inbound rail tons was received by the terminal last year, Murphy projected earlier this year that rail traffic would continue the upward trend that began in late 2016 with the signing of a new customer for which terminal capabilities to load railcar to truck (and truck to rail) were upgraded by Watco. True to projections, more than one-half of 2017’s total rail volume already has moved through the terminal in the first four months of 2018.


With its new 10-year operating lease with the Port Authority, Watco recently invested over $300,000 for improvements to the terminal’s trans-loading operations in addition to purchasing new loading equipment. Watco also funded placement of new signage on the main terminal warehouse reflecting its presence as operator. Other upgrades at the terminal by Watco are pending.


There is also new business developing in the pipeline, and Watco continues to create solutions for local industries and add value by offering multimodal transportation options at the Port of Pine Bluff, according to Watco Companies Commercial Manager Joseph Bitner, whose territory includes Pine Bluff.


“We have seen strong year-over-year increases in tonnage at Pine Bluff and deploy concentrated efforts to stimulate growth to Jefferson County,” Bitner said.