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.

The Little Rock Port Authority hosted a celebratory luncheon on Monday, July 8. Held at the Robinson Center ballroom in Little Rock, the event marked the 60th anniversary of the authority’s organization on July 5, 1959.

According to its website, the Little Rock Port itself opened in 1971. (For history buffs, that’s the same year the 450-mile McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was officially dedicated by then-President Richard M. Nixon at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa.)

Attendance at the recent anniversary luncheon included Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Union Pacific Railroad CEO Lance Fritz, along with other elected officials, port directors, and a large number of folks whose businesses and livelihoods are dependent on the Arkansas River.

Among the 300 people in the room was Lou Ann Nisbett, Alliance president and executive director of the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority. “It was a very impressive event,” she says, “and it certainly highlighted the importance of the river and barge transportation to the state’s economy.”

As a member of the Arkansas Waterways Association, Nisbett was an invited guest on hand in support of the state’s riverports, and she congratulated Little Rock Port Director Bryan Day and his staff on their great job of emphasizing their port’s history and the river’s benefits.

But Little Rock’s port—like Pine Bluff’s port—is intermodal, with Class I railroad access also critically important to tenants and regional customers. UP’s Fritz was a luncheon speaker about the railroad’s operations in Arkansas.

At the luncheon’s conclusion, Nisbett was able to invite another railroad executive to Pine Bluff this fall to speak to members of the Jefferson County Manufacturing Council.

Coincidentally, Little Rock’s July 8 anniversary luncheon date marked the 56th anniversary of creation of the Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority.

Original support for port development at Pine Bluff was centered in the Pine Bluff Port Authority created in 1961. That agency was later reorganized as the present Pine Bluff-Jefferson County Port Authority, which was formally established on July 8, 1963.

Due to the local authority’s dedicated port development efforts, the first movement of commodities from Pine Bluff was in mid-1969. Completion of Jefferson County’s Lock and Dam #4 in 1969 had placed the Port of Pine Bluff in business ahead of other facilities planned for the inland waterways project.

The local authority was the prime mover in developing the port’s harbor district property and seeking facilities to complement that industrial park. For 56 years and counting, this remains the goal. Even through seasons of high water!