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An incentive package offered at SAJ Distributors would create additional 81 jobs in Pine Bluff. Creating additional jobs would help answer the city’s population retreat.

L&R Distributors of Brooklyn, N.Y., announced in November that the firm would buy the distribution center from Walgreen Co., which bought the assets of USA Drug from the LaFrance Family earlier this year.

L&R hopes to take possession of SAJ by late January or early February and anticipates there will be 119 employees at that time. The Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County has proposed offering $500,000 in project infrastructure or equipment assistance to the company in return for creating the additional 81 positions for a workforce of 200 within five years. The average annual salary for workers would be $32,000.

The alliance’s tax board, which administers the three-eighths cent sales tax that was approved by county voters for economic development, will also offer 30 to 50 acres of land in the Jefferson Industrial Park at a value of $20,000 per acre, for a total value of $1 million, plus potential payment in lieu of property taxes. The total potential value of the incentive package is $1.525 million. L&R is also working with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission on a state incentive package.

SAJ’s existing payroll is $2.3 million annually, but that would climb to $3.8 million under the new ownership, with 2011 sales of $146 million.

The alliance has also contacted Entergy Arkansas in an effort to save the more than 90 jobs that would be lost if the utility proceeds with plans to close the Pine Bluff Operations Center in 2015.

An Entergy official has since toured the alliance’s Bioplex site near the Pine Bluff Arsenal and National Center for Toxicological Research. A decision is expected in January.

The sales tax has generated almost $3.5 million since collections began, giving job recruiters more arrows for their quiver. Nothing moves quickly in economic development.

Absent mayor

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Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. missed his final city council meeting Monday night. He didn’t leave a message to explain his absence.

Redus, who will be replaced by Debe Hollingsworth on Jan. 1, is vacationing, his administrative assistant, Ted Davis, acknowledged Thursday. Callers seeking to talk with Redus earlier this week were told he was not in the office and no date was given for his return.

“He should be back next week,” said Davis, adding Redus was just “a phone call away.” Except calls to the mayor’s cell phone went unanswered.

Repay scholarships?

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The General Assembly convenes for the 2013 regular session on Jan. 14. It is time to lock up the women and children for their protection when bills are announced by Twitter.

A state legislator from Mena maintains he will file a bill requiring students who receive lottery-funded scholarships to repay the state if they fail to obtain a degree.

The state’s college students should be paying attention while on Christmas break.

We are inclined to agree with Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, that the proposal may conflict with the constitutional amendment that authorized the lottery’s creation. The amendment establishing the lottery calls the scholarships “scholarships or grants,” not a loan.

College students have been known to change majors several times in their quest for career skills.

We wish the retention rate among Academic Challenge Scholarship recipients was higher, but changing the rules in the middle of a game is foolish.

We have been less than successful in collecting defaulted student loans.