City & County

Rail across 67 ‘imperative’ for job recruitment, say economic developers

By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian

Getting rail from the Union Pacific rail line to an industrial super site opposite Highway 67 must happen in order to attract companies to Clark County, economic development officials said Tuesday.

An extension has been requested from the U.S. Economic Development Administration on a $1.3 million grant awarded to local economic development groups to build a trans-load rail facility within the Clark County Industrial Park. The Economic Development Corporation of Clark County has already committed to a $1.3 million match to the EDA funds if the time extension is granted.

“If we can get rail to the super site, I don’t think we’ll have a problem filling the whole place up.”

— Ross Whipple, EDCCC board member

At least one prospective company eyeing Clark County needs rail — or at least a promise there will be rail access — before committing. Project “Teal”, as it’s called due to a non-disclosure agreement during negotiations, is the company calling for rail. In August, the EDCCC agreed to deed up to 300 acres of the super site to Teal as a preliminary incentive to commit. The company was reported to want ownership of a portion of the site in addition to the guarantee of rail access.

“I believe we can get rail out there,” Griffin said in response to a board member’s question about Teal’s commitment. “It’s imperative that we get that rail out there, or Teal won’t be a project.” Griffin added that Union Pacific executives are part of talks about the hopeful rail project. 

Griffin said he expects the EDCCC would have to cough up upwards to another $4 million to the railroad. “I don’t know what the cost will be for sure,” he said. “Nobody does until they start working on it.” The state could help with the overall cost, but a dollar amount is speculative at this point, he said. Part of the spur would include two automatic rail switches, which are valued at $1.5 million apiece, Griffin added.

Shelley Short, the new Alliance CEO, said, “Without getting rail out to that site, it limits what can be done from here on out. This is an excellent opportunity to get a project that will commit to that particular site and to be able to work with our state partners or other potential grants that are out there that exist to bring rail.” Short added that she had learned of two different grant opportunities that morning, but Union Pacific’s assistance would be needed.

If and when the EDA provides its matching funds, the EDCCC would have 18 months to start using the money or likely lose it. “We have got to do something with that money” within that timeframe, chairman Kevin Jester said. “We cannot anticipate another extension. Whether that’s going to be continued work on bed rail, or extending rail or [building a] temporary trans-load facility, we’ve got to take advantage of that regardless” of Teal’s decision.

Griffin reported in a July meeting that Teal representatives were “optimistic” about locating in Clark County but would be more so if the rail were already in place.

Ross Whipple agreed that rail crossing over Highway 67 would be a valuable tool for attracting companies. “If we can get rail to the super site, I don’t think we’ll have a problem filling the whole place up,” Whipple said.

In updating the board on projects, Griffin said Teal’s investors are now part of discussions relating to that project. Short said the state Economic Development Commission will need to be part of negotiations with Teal “because at this point it definitely needs to be a joint project for this particular company.” Short said she’s already contacted AEDC about assisting.

A new project, called “Radio”, is a manufacturing company considering sites between Arkadelphia and Dallas, Texas, said Short. “There’s not a lot I can share about that [project] just yet,” she said, adding it’s a newly formed company looking to hire 25-50 jobs in its formative stages.

Project “Soccer” is one that was referred to the Alliance through a site selection firm. Short said “Soccer” would be the “type of company that is a good fit for our area” and is interested in a site in the Clark County Industrial Park. She reported 120 jobs would follow that project were it to come to fruition.

Veolia to expand Gum Springs plant

An announcement next month is set to attract statewide attention with an event similar to Hostess Brands’ invitation-only sign unveiling ceremony. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is expected to make a speech, as he did at the Hostess event, as well as Veolia’s chief executive officers from both its France and North American headquarters. 

“Veolia is an exceptional employer in our community,” Short said. “They’re looking to do multiple different smaller expansions. The company really values the property they have out there, and the flexibility it will give them to do some things going forward.”

Super site among 5 chosen for master plan analysis

Short reported to the EDCCC board that an application submitted to AEDC was awarded to the local super site, one of five of its kind throughout the state to be chosen from 52 applicants.

Burns & McDonnell, an international consulting firm, is expected to provide a master plan and site analysis on the super site. The estimated cost for this service would be around $150,000-$200,000 if being paid directly by the EDCCC; Short said no local funding will be required to participate in the study.

“This will be a great asset in our ability to market the site and to have information readily available to prospects looking at sites,” Short said.