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.

This column was activated by a phone call.

The businessman on the other end of the call was an out-of-state executive whose company is thinking about buying a commercial property in Pine Bluff. He needed confirmation that it would be a good investment but his search on the Internet wasn’t encouraging. Pretty much all he could pull up had a negative tone, and he wondered where to find positive news about the community.

Fortunately, he called the Alliance. After just five minutes of listening to staff enumerate all the positive economic trends here, he reported feeling much more secure in supporting the purchase. He also suggested making this positive news more accessible on the Internet.

Alliance staff members have had this “encourage the business prospect” conversation many times. Last week…last month…last year. And we agree on the need to keep promoting the positives. So, here’s a sample (though not all-inclusive) listing that should be posted online, printed, reprinted and repeated as often as possible:

• After more than a year of work by over 100 participants, Go Forward Pine Bluff is currently implementing its strategic plan for growing the community’s tax base, which includes downtown revitalization. A 5/8-cent voter-approved city sales tax is helping pay for the projects.

• Several businesses have opened recently on Main Street in downtown Pine Bluff, and downtown streetscape improvements will begin soon. Work is already underway on the new downtown plaza at the southeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Main Street.

• Construction of a new Pine Bluff/Jefferson County main library is expected to begin later this year at the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Main Street. Design plans for the 32,000-SF facility were unveiled May 1. Renovation of the Watson Chapel branch library is included in the $14 million project for which voters approved a tax millage increase.

• After a lengthy planning phase, ground was broken May 4 for the Pine Bluff Aquatic Center at 400 East 11th Avenue across from City Hall in downtown Pine Bluff. The $11 million multi-purpose center is being funded mainly with revenue from a 2011 voter-approved sales tax, and private funds also have been pledged by Go Forward Pine Bluff.

• A $35 million restoration of the six-story Hotel Pines at Fifth Avenue and Main Street is being planned by a local non-profit dedicated to bringing this historic structure back to life.

• Staff of the Economic Development Alliance worked 41 new prospect leads during 2017. A total of 62 prospect visits to Pine Bluff/Jefferson County also were recorded last year.

• The Alliance has heard confidential details recently from executives of five existing manufacturing companies in Jefferson County that are in various stages of planning for expansions. Three of them have provided projected capital expenditures, and the combined total is more than $200 million.

• Another local industry has purchased land for a planned $12 million expansion that will create 10 additional jobs. Engineering work has been completed, and the company expects to break ground soon.

• To address workforce issues locally, Jefferson County recently joined with two adjoining counties to reach the workforce development goals necessary for certification in the ACT Work Ready Communities program. Reaching these goals will mean a workforce better prepared for industry needs.

• Highland Pellets’ new $220 million wood pellet mill in Pine Bluff’s Jefferson Industrial Park began production in early 2017. The mill, now with 90+ employees, continues working toward getting all four planned manufacturing lines up to full production.

• China-based Newland LLC purchased a 130,000-SF building in Jefferson Industrial Park for a U.S. distribution center and warehousing operation for its Frontier brand tool chests and retrofitted the building in 2017. The $15 million investment is projected to create about 10 jobs initially, and corporate officials are considering moving some manufacturing functions to Pine Bluff.

• Energy Security Partners (ESP) picked Jefferson County as site for its planned $3.7 billion gas-to-liquid plant. This would be the largest economic development project in Arkansas’ history and create 2,000 construction jobs for several years and 225 permanent jobs for Phase I. A 1,150-acre site has been purchased by the Economic Development Corporation, which approved a local incentive of $3.925 million for the project. ESP is on target to close soon on up to $100 million for project front end engineering design.

• Western Foods LLC, based in California, announced in mid-2017 it was coming to Pine Bluff and would create 50 jobs in Jefferson Industrial Park. The company is completing the retrofit of a 56,000-SF facility for its gluten-free flour mill that will open in spring 2018. A local sales tax incentive in the amount of $280,750 was disbursed in December 2017 and was used for building renovations.

• A local incentive of $188,250 was approved in January 2018 for a long-time Jefferson Industrial Park tenant planning to buy additional acreage in the park for a new trucking operation called Stacked Logistics. Total capital investment is estimated at over $6.6 million and includes construction of a 14,000-SF building and creation of 31 new jobs.