A nearly $500,000 incentive using funds from the three-eights cent sales tax approved by Jefferson County voters in 2011 has been approved by the Economic Development Corp., of Jefferson County. Those funds will be used by a Texas company that will manufacture chemical biological suits for the Marine Corps and be located at the Pine Bluff Arsenal.

“I’m excited about this project,” George Makris, chairman of the ECD, better known as the Tax Board said during a meeting of the group Tuesday. “We all went through the base closures a few years ago and I don’t us to have to do that again.”

White Hall Mayor Noel Foster said the company is Ready One Industries of El Paso, Texas where they have a facility which employs 1,200 people and has been looking to expand. He said a local contractor has already been contacted about renovating a building at the arsenal for the company, which expects to employ more than 70 people, with three-quarters of them having a disability.

“We are thankful for the State, Congressional and local leaders for their efforts in this important initiative,” Foster said. “The state’s congressional delegation was responsible for sponsoring the 2018 Authorization Language and the Governor has been personally engaged and wholly supportive of the Arsenal. The community leaders including Mayor Washington and County Judge Robinson have a long-standing tradition of supporting the Arsenal and this partnership is unique.”

The proposed incentive package calls for the creation of 72 full-time jobs within a five-year period with an average hourly wage of $12.22. Ready One will be receive $6,750 for each of the jobs created or a total of $486,000. In addition, the company anticipates spending $283,500 for equipment, building renovations and like, for which they will receive a $4,260 incentive. The total incentive package is worth $490,260, and Makris said the attorneys for the tax board will prepare the contract paperwork.

According to Foster, the Arsenal, which already produces and stores chemical defense equipment for the military will be expanding its mission with the new public-private partnership. That partnership is the result of the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that directed the Department of Defense to report on the need for a Chemical Defense Logistics Center and Readiness Reform Initiative at the Arsenal. He said the overall objective is to “use partnerships to improve readiness of the chemical defense industrial base.”

According to a news release, Governor Asa Hutchinson in 2015 announced the creation of a state Military Affairs Steering Committee to expand the state’s military interests and related economic development. The City of White Hall formed a Military Affairs Advisory Committee in July 2016 to provide focused attention on the needs of the Arsenal.

Also according to the news release, the company is scheduled to begin operations at the Arsenal as early as the spring of 2020.Larry Wright, who is the retired Deputy Commander at the Arsenal and is a consultant with the White Hall Military Affairs Advisory Committee said local and military leaders have been working on this project for the last two years and predicted that future private-public partnerships will be forthcoming.

“I think we can look to see some companies set up outside the Arsenal because sometimes it can be a nuisance to get in and out of the gate,” he said.