Keeping competitive jobs coming to Arkansas is the mission of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and the director of the business development division of that office asked people attending a joint meeting of the Rotary clubs Tuesday to be salespeople for the state.
Bentley Story was the guest speaker at the 37th annual Industry Appreciation Day luncheon held at the Pine Bluff Country Club.
“Arkansas doesn’t have a product,” he said. “We rely on local communities to provide the product, like quality of life.”
As an example, Story talked about the owner of a business who was considering locating in the state and who, unknown to anyone, came to the town he was interested in to look around, eat in the restaurants, go to a grocery store and to a church, just to see what the town was like.
Story said he talked to another businessman who said that when he flew to Arkansas, the person in the seat next to him was from the town the businessman was interested in, and he was able to get a lot of information.
“You never know who you might be talking to,” Story said.
He said that he and the other people in his division spend a lot of time with existing industries that are looking to expand. He cited a recent event at the Pine Bluff Arsenal as an example.
“There are a lot of companies and a lot of economic opportunity there,” Story said.
He also explained that the agency is focused on certain types of industries, adding that Pine Bluff and Jefferson County has all of them. He said Pine Bluff is fortunate to have larger industries, such as the Tyson facility.
Additionally, paper and wood products are covered by Evergreen Packaging, Mondi and Highland Pellets. Transportation and metal are represented by Kiswire.
Story said the AEDC serves as the single point of contact between prospective industries and state government, linking those industries to state agencies like the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Finance and Administration and others. They can also assist in helping find the right site for an industry and for a state incentive program.
“You have to have those to compete,” he said. “Jefferson County is able to partner with the state on those incentives, and that is a signal to the corporation that the community has bought in.”
Story said that economic development has been a priority for the past 13 years under both previous governors and current Governor Asa Hutchinson.
He said that since Tennessee and Texas, two states surrounding Arkansas who also compete for jobs, have no income tax, the governor has cut taxes over the past several years and doesn’t hesitate to pick up a phone or speak out to try and attract a project.
Before Story spoke, Diane Tatum, the president of the Downtown Rotary Club, said that
Industry Appreciation Day started in 1983 to “recognize the millions of dollars in capital investments and thousands of jobs provided by our local manufacturing industries.”
She said that, currently, the county has more than 4,800 manufacturing jobs. Only seven counties in the state have more.
“In the early 2000’s, we also started to recognize the distribution and technology-based companies in Jefferson County because they, too, make significant contributions to our local economy,” Tatum said.