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.


It’s not often that an economic developer gets invited to participate in a major event hosted locally and designed expressly for “selling” his own community.


But Caleb McMahon, director of economic development for the Economic Development Alliance, found himself in just such a rare setting last week when Pine Bluff Arsenal hosted Chem-Bio Defense Industry Day. The event, held June 6 and 7 at the White Hall Community Center, drew a crowd of about 150 mostly out-of-state attendees.


Conducted in conjunction with the U.S. Army’s Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Defense, the event’s purpose was to showcase Arkansas’ military value and promote Pine Bluff Arsenal as a “logistics hub” for chem-bio defense industries.


Gov. Asa Hutchinson was among the state officials on the first day’s program agenda, and White Hall Mayor Noel Foster hosted a reception the previous evening to kick off the event.


Second day activities for participants included a bus tour of Pine Bluff Arsenal. And McMahon served as guide for a bus tour of the 785-acre Jefferson Industrial Park, which is an Alliance development project that is home to 21 manufacturing and support facilities but has numerous sites available for new industries.


Networking opportunities were provided on both days for interested Department of Defense contractors and business executives attending the event.


As an invited program speaker, McMahon was given 20 minutes to talk about community economic development specifics. He did that by narrating a short PowerPoint presentation he developed that described the Alliance’s services, industrial parks and properties, as well as the incentive funds available for locating industries in Jefferson County.


McMahon revised and practiced his speech several times beforehand. He wanted to present a concise but persuasive talk because the audience held dozens of business and manufacturing prospects. Some of the registered attendees arrived already potentially interested in partnering with the arsenal and establishing operations here. And through the event’s scheduled sessions, others were made fully aware of the arsenal’s role in military readiness — and the area’s readiness to take on new support missions.


Pine Bluff Arsenal is the only remaining active Army installation in Arkansas. It is a world leader in the manufacturing, repair and storage of pyrotechnic ammunition and chemical defense equipment. And it is one of Jefferson County’s largest industrial employers.