The Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County has accepted the task of recruiting jobs to the county. It's not an easy assignment, but one that deserves our support and a change of attitude.

The Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County has accepted the task of recruiting jobs to the county. It’s not an easy assignment, but one that deserves our support and a change of attitude.

It is no secret that Pine Bluff’s economy stalled long before the recession hit. Jobs and population have disappeared in recent decades. School enrollment is shrinking as families move to find employment.

Why would company XYZ spend big bucks to open a new manufacturing plant or distribution center here? To attract jobs, The Alliance must sell Pine Bluff and the workforce.

For Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of The Alliance, it can mean almost starting from scratch. Her calendar for 2012 is filling fast. The calendar includes a new website for The Alliance and face-to-face meetings with existing companies and prospective employers.

Nisbett told the Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County Tuesday afternoon that a good website is “the key to economic development.” For site selectors of companies that might have Jefferson County on a long list of potential locations for a plant or center, a website is often their first and last view of a community. As Nisbett observed, if those selectors don’t see what they’re looking for in a matter of minutes, they are gone with a simple click on a computer mouse.

Many communities are willing to turn cartwheels to bring in jobs. They are offering incentives, tax breaks and the moon, if necessary.

The Alliance was hired by the Economic Development Corp. to manage the affairs of the corporation, which administers the three-eighths cent countywide sales tax earmarked for economic development.

Those face-to-face meetings involve visiting the corporate headquarters of companies currently located in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County, including Tyson Foods, Wheeling Machine Products, SunGro Horticulture, and Evergreen Packaging. We want the corporate executives to understand how much their companies are appreciated.

When thinking economic development, keep in mind that often existing industries and companies generate 80 percent of new jobs outside the retail sector. If a company likes what it finds in a location, the economic developer’s job becomes much easier.

Companies are always looking for dependable, trained workforces, for example, and educational institutions with flexibility for training needed workers.

Site selectors emphasized that after a good website, face-to-face visits can make a big difference in their decision about locating in a particular place.

We now have another asset. Gov. Mike Beebe has said over and over that if a city or county is willing to invest in recruiting jobs, the state’s interest in adding to incentives increases. The sales tax, which is expected to generate $3.5 million annually, demonstrates our willingness to invest in jobs.

The Alliance’s efforts to retain and expand existing businesses has been recognized by the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. It is much easier to keep an existing business than go out and beat the bushes to bring a new company to town.

Mid-America Packaging expanded twice last year, Stant added thermostat production at its Pine Bluff plant, and U.S. Sugar opened up a packaging plant last year.

Much of Tuesday’s Economic Development Corp. meeting was devoted to a presentation by Little Rock attorney Jane Dickey of the Rose Law Firm, one of the authors of economic development authority legislation.

Members of the Economic Development Corp. of Jefferson County must “get involved early” in the process, she recommended. “You’re here to provide incentives (for job creation and expansion), not to offer somebody a price after they’ve already made a decision.”

She knows her way around economic development and has probably lost count of the city councils and quorum courts she has addressed explaining economic development bond issues.

When she talks, we would be wise to listen.